Expansion FAQ

Why are we expanding?

Workers deserve a voice. Without student workers, there would be no food, no library, no mentor sessions, no mail delivery. We do vital work for the college. We should have a say in how we work.

Grinnell has always valued self-governance. College president George Gates famously said that “It is 10,000 times better that young people should learn to govern themselves.” Despite this, self-governance is notably absent in the workplace. Wages and hours are set arbitrarily by the administration, and jobs can disappear without notice or discussion.

Together, we can advocate for our common goals in a way that has not been possible before. Student workers in Dining Services have fought for, and won, key improvements in wages and working conditions through UGSDW. Student workers outside Dining Services ought to have the right to do the same.

What has UGSDW achieved in the past? What can we hope to gain through a union?

By expanding UGSDW, we hope to give every student employee a voice in their own employment through collective bargaining. Collective bargaining allows us to come together, determine our priorities, and sit across the table from the administration to negotiate a contract about the terms and conditions of our work, including pay and disciplinary policies.

Through collective bargaining, student employees in Dining Services have negotiated base pay raises from $8.50 to $10.40 per hour, a bonus system that rewards experience, guaranteed rest breaks, food safety training, and a grievance procedure.

Outside Dining Services, student workers have organized in the Mailroom for safety protections and a better working environment. Expanding collective bargaining rights to all student workers on campus would help enshrine these victories and win many more protections for all.

Langston Thomas, speaking at the announcement event for UGSDW's expansion campaign.

How do we get union representation and a contract? Which workers will be represented?

In March 2022, we reached an agreement with the College that will guarantee a free and fair election to expand the union to all hourly student workers. We are fighting to win a union for all student workers, and then we will negotiate a contract based on the demands of student workers. All student workers who are paid hourly will be represented, excepting students whose only positions are outside internships, research fellowships, or Summer MAPs. Community advisors will also be excluded in the election, but should the College switch CAs to an hourly pay structure, they will voluntarily accrete CAs into the recognized bargaining unit.

What about student workers outside union expansion?

Collective bargaining is the most effective way for student workers to advance our interesetes. But we are committed to organize and fight for student workers outside expansion without formal union representation. These student workers can still participate in UGSDW. Student worker unions across the country, such as those at Duke University and the University of Chicago, have won significant gains without formal collective bargaining.

Can international students participate in the union?

Absolutely! Many of our members and several of our officers are international students. Federal laws protect the rights of non-citizens to participate in unions. Joining a union has absolutely no impact on your immigration status or student visa.

Can one union contract accommodate so many different departments at Grinnell?

Definitely. There are no limits on what our contract can and can’t do (within the law, of course). Most of the union contract deals with things like grievance procedures, rights of employees and of the college, and things like dues deductions and notifications about changes to work rules. All of these things can and should be standardized across departments. Wages are relatively standardized and can easily be broken down at the department level. Last, additional rules or provisions that apply only to specific departments could be included should it become necessary. Regardless of where you work, you deserve a fair wage, a safe and inclusive workplace, a fair discpline policy, and so on.

Lazier Hall, Grinnell College

If the union wins more benefits for student employees, won’t Grinnell have to make more cuts elsewhere?

Not necessarily. The college has A LOTof money, and can largely choose to do whatever it wants with it. They also build flexibility into their budget. Financial aid is central to Grinnell’s mission. The new admissions building? Maybe not as much. We certainly think that paying employees a fair wage should be a higher priority than some of the College’s current expenditures.

I like my work. Why would I want a union?

Right now, the administration can change workplace policies at any time without consulting any student. In other words, without a contract, we have no security and no seat at the table when decisions affecting our lives and work are made by administrators. For example, the administration arbitrarily closed down two workplaces on campus, Bob’s Underground Cafe and Lyle’s Pub.

Besides, when some of us are happy with our working conditions, others may not be. Joining UGSDW enables you to support each other: with a union, we get to negotiate a contract that will protect the benefits we like and secure improvements in areas where we would like to see progress.

I like my supervisor. Wouldn’t joining UGSDW upset them?

Your supervisor wants a happy, productive workplace. They understand the stress that student employment puts on you. Many supervisors support higher wages (after all, they’re not paying for them out of pocket). Joining UGSDW isn’t a statement about your supervisor. It’s a statement about wanting a voice in discussions with the college administration.

What are the rules governing how UGSDW is run?

While the union is administered and managed by the Executive Board elected annually by members, the Board has very few powers other than those explicitly granted to it by members. At the end of the day, members have complete control over the union and its decisions. Union meetings happen every month or so, and any member can make proposals and have them voted on. For more details, read our constitution.

What about dues?

We encourage our members to pay 2 dollars per month when classes are in session–That means fewer than 15 minutes of work. Dues fund snacks at our meetings, films we screen, union buttons, our website, and many more. And no money can be spent without our members’ approval! We do understand that paying dues may be too much for some members, so we have no mandatory dues. Whether you pay dues doesn’t impact your membership status in any way. You can learn how UGSDW raises and spends money this past year by reading our financial report.

How is UGSDW different from SGA?

SGA can play a meaningful role in enhancing the workplace experience of student employees, but the college is under no obligation to accept SGA’s recommendations or requests. On the other hand, the administration has a legal obligation to bargain with us, represented by UGSDW, as equals over things like wages and workplace protections.

I am an alum. What can I do to help?

We always appreciate the love and solidarity from alumni.

For now, we ask all alumni to submit an online comment to Grinnell’s Board of Trustees supporting partial expansion and student workers’ union rights in general. For updates, you can follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @ugsdw), join our UGSDW support net work mailing list. You can also donate to us. UGSDW does not have mandatory dues, and your donations will support our strike fund, picket signs, and this website.

Further questions?

Write to us! We’re happy to answer any questions you have about UGSDW and the expansion campaign.