Grinnell College Refuses to Bargain Due to Strike; UGSDW Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge as Strike Continues

The college unilaterally declared impasse after falsely declaring student workers’ strike “unlawful”

A photograph of several Grinnell students standing in a circle, two holding signs reading "UGSDW on strike"

GRINNELL, IOWA — The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Grinnell College today, Thursday, May 11, for refusal to bargain in good faith. Following the first day of the strike that Grinnell student workers began on May 10, the college’s bargaining team sent an email to UGSDW’s leadership stating that they believed the parties had reached impasse due to UGSDW’s strike. The email stated “As a result of your decision to strike and picket instead of bargaining in good faith, we must conclude that we have now reached impasse. A strike is a fundamental action and acknowledgment of impasse. During impasse, the parties’ duty to bargain is temporarily suspended.” UGSDW categorically rejects the assertion that the decision to strike is in any way at odds with bargaining in good faith.

The UGSDW bargaining team had sent an updated bargaining proposal as of May 9, and remains committed to negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement. In response to an email from the college to all students, faculty, and staff sent on May 9, UGSDW stated that “we plan to attend Thursday’s mediation session as scheduled.” The college’s response to this email states that “the college’s collective bargaining team does not believe that mediation would be a good use of either party’s, or our FMCS mediator’s, time.”

Grinnell College’s refusal to bargain in good faith in response to student workers taking action to demand decent wages, protection from discrimination and harassment and fair compensation for community advisors is a severe blow to labor relations at the college and a return to the illegal union-busting tactics Grinnell has employed for years.

The college’s refusal to bargain is yet another anti-union action from an institution which claims to believe in “social responsibility.” In 2018, the college challenged student workers’ right to organize as employees before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing that student workers should not be classified as employees. When the NLRB’s Region 18 rejected the college’s argument in a pre-election hearing, the college hired union-busting lawyers from Proskauer Rose and filed an appeal to the national board, forcing UGSDW to withdraw its petition for recognition. Subsequently, the college’s Board of Trustees forced the college administration to cease negotiations with the union that would have allowed UGSDW to expand its unit from student dining workers to several hundred additional positions.

“This Tuesday, we told the college that we would attend our mediated bargaining session this Thursday in the hopes of coming to an agreement that will end our ongoing strike. The college’s refusal to even meet us at the bargaining table—and their false claim to the entire campus community that our strike is unlawful—is shameful,” said Lena Wiebe, UGSDW President. “We won’t back down in response to union-busting, stalling, lies, threats, and intimidation. We will continue our strike to demand higher wages, no pay cuts, and a contractually enforceable non-discrimination process, and we will be prepared to bargain when the college is ready to fulfill its legal obligation to bargain in good faith.”

UGSDW will continue its indefinite strike. UGSDW’s bargaining team is prepared to bargain in good faith in an effort to reach a contract that addresses the needs of all student workers, including a living wage, room and board compensation for Community Advisors, and contract protections against harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Donate to the UGSDW strike fund to support striking student workers!


UGDSW is the first independent undergraduate labor union in the country, UGSDW fights for fair pay and benefits for all workers at Grinnell College. The union represents over 800 students, or about 50% of the total student population.

Grinnell College is a small, private, liberal arts college located in Grinnell, Iowa. Founded in 1846, Grinnell has been a consistent leader in social justice issues. According to its mission statement, the College “aims to graduate individuals who can think clearly, who can speak and write persuasively and even eloquently, who can evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas, who can acquire new knowledge, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

You can reach UGSDW’s leaders via email ( or on social media (@ugsdw). UGSDW is an independent union run by student workers. Consider supporting our organizing at

« Grinnell College Student Workers Strike for Campus-Wide Contract as College Circulates False Claims about Legality HISTORIC WALL-TO-WALL CONTRACT »