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Bring your bargaining chips to the Bargaining Team meetings

SARAH RUIZ. Alec Doss, Cory McCartan and Rachel Bass, all ’19, members of the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, currently negotiating with the College for better wages and conditions.

Students are getting more than they bargained for in the Dining Hall this semester. The Bargaining Team, part of the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, is currently in negotiations with the College to advocate for better working conditions and wages for dining hall workers.

The team, comprised of eight union members, was formed at the Union’s first meeting on Sunday, Sept. 3. Members were able to either nominate other members or to self-volunteer to join the team, which decides bargaining strategies and negotiates directly with the College.

“At our meeting, members did vote as a whole to set a target for what they were going to go for and what they were willing to accept,” said Cory McCartan ’19, president of the Union. “We are looking for a significant increase in wages, given industry standards, rates that students at other similar colleges and universities [receive].”

Students may have noticed stations closing in the Dining Hall and longer lines, due to an insufficient number of staff. The shortage of workers at the dining hall is another issue the Union hopes to address.

“We’re also looking for ways to increase retention by offering higher pay for those who stay longer,” said McCartan, “and … with increases in tuition and inflation, increases in wages.”

The first in-person bargaining meeting between the College and the Bargaining Team was held Tuesday, Sept. 6. The Bargaining Team met with representatives from Human Resources, the Student Employment Office, and outside counsel that the College chose to bring in.

The Union initially proposed a base wage of $10.12 an hour, which “works out to 5 percent of Grinnell’s comprehensive fee if you work a standard 300-hour year,” McCartan wrote in an email to The S&B.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for the kind of work we do in the dining hall is $10.26. That’s skewed high due to how the BLS defines certain categories, but once you’ve adjusted for factors like the number of people employed in each sector, the average wage is still $9.74,” wrote McCartan. “In our proposal to the college, we also proposed wage tiers where an employee would earn an additional $0.20 per hour after working 300 hours, another $0.20 after 600 hours, and so on. … We also proposed that the base wage be increased yearly in proportion to the increase in Grinnell’s tuition and fees. This is because work study is part of a student’s financial aid package.  If the college raises tuition, that shouldn’t make it harder for students to work to help cover the cost.”

Caitlin Richter ’19, a Union representative, said “the College brought the number $9 an hour” to counter the team’s offer. The union has since come down from $10.12 to $9.90 an hour, according to McCartan.

“I think that there’s going to be a little bit of meeting in the middle ground, but I definitely think that we will be getting close to what we want,” said Michael Hewitt ’20, a member of the Bargaining Team.

Even if student dining hall workers did not formally register for the Union, they are still represented by the Union.

“Every student who works in the dining hall, and some non-students, are represented by the Union,” said McCartan. “Because this is the United States, you can’t be forced to be a member of an organization that you don’t want to be [a part of], so of course, membership is voluntary. We encourage everybody. Because Iowa is a right to work state, we can’t impose fair-share fees or dues to those who don’t join the Union.” However, the Union does not impose dues on any of its members.

The Union is advocating for high school employees and support staff to be included under the terms of the contract, as well as student workers. “The College is in disagreement about who is covered,” said Alec Doss ’19, Union Vice President and member of the Bargaining Team. “They believe that basically just students and maybe supportive employees should be covered.”

Grill and catering workers are not represented by the Union, though they are welcome to join. “The College would not be contractually bound to raise wages for them. They might decide that it makes sense, but that’s not something we’re bargaining over — we’re not legally allowed to bargain over that,” McCartan said. “[Representation is] something the Union could explore in the future.” One grill worker has joined the Union already.

Currently, less than 10 percent of Dining Hall employees are actually unionized. “Out of the 263 people who are actively working shifts in the dining hall right now, we have 24 who are currently unionized,” said McCartan. “We’d love to see something like 95 percent of dining hall unionized [as members] … realistically … a number like 60 or 70 percent wouldn’t be that surprising.”

“It’s tricky in Iowa where you can basically freeload off of what the union does for you without having to actually do anything, but we hope that by having no dues and being transparent and democratic that we’ll entice people to join,” McCartan said. “Currently it is a small but growing minority.”

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