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UGSDW negotiates 2.7 percent pay raise

By Ben Mikek


After an extended labor dispute, the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) has signed on to a new contract that raises the hourly wage for dining services employees to $9.50 per hour. The negotiations have gone on for several months.   

“The College initially thought that no raise was at all necessary, given that they had given us a substantial increase in the previous year, said Cory McCartan ’19, president of the Union. “Our members didn’t buy that, and so three times we rejected their final offer, and finally after a little more public information campaign and a one-day slow down, we think that finally the message was clear enough to the College that they were willing to move significantly towards our end goal.” 

The Union unanimously voted to accept the college’s revised offer of $9.50 per hour, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous wage of $9.25.   

“That’s substantially more than an inflation increase for last year,” McCartan said. “It’s not quite to tuition, but it’s more than inflation, and fundamentally it’s a paradigm shift in … the College’s approach to student labor.” 

The settlement on a $9.50 wage also satisfied the College. 

“The College was very pleased the student dining union members accepted our latest wage proposal at $9.50, and look at this as a win-win agreement so that our students, faculty and staff will continue to receive a high-quality dining experience,” wrote Associate Vice Preisdent of Human Resources Mary Greiner in an email to The S&B. 

People on both sides of the negotiation table stressed the mutually beneficial nature of not only the most recent negotiations, but the existence of the Union.   

“We should always be striving for a win-win whenever [possible],” McCartan said. “We’ve tried to work with the College from the beginning. I think we have a really positive relationship with administrators there and hope we can continue that.” 

Greiner expressed similar sentiments.

“We look at the ratified contract as a win-win agreement and look forward to working with the students to continue to provide a great product,” she wrote. 

Student workers are, of course, not the only employees of Dining Services. The Dining Hall also employs non-student supervisors, as well as high school students. High school students were the subject of a minor disagreement with the administration following the last round of contract negotiations. 

“When we say UGSDW, that’s both college students and high school students,” McCartan said. “We fought hard last year to make sure the College followed up on its legal obligation to pay those high schoolers a fair wage and include them in the contract, as was intended all along. They finally did that, and we’re glad that happened.” 

The wage increase is the most significant part of the new contract, and the Union claims that increasing pay can help combat low staffing levels in the dining hall.   

“In the six-week period following the ratification of the first contract, we saw unfilled shifts drop by 25 percent,” McCartan said.   

“The College does keep statistics on filled and unfilled shifts,” Greiner said. “We agree there has been some progress in reducing open shifts, however, increased compensation alone doesn’t appear to be the only solution.” 

Disagreement, then, still exists on the margins. However, following the conclusion of this most recent round of negotiations, it seems that both administrators and Union members are looking to the future.   

“We do believe extending the contract from a one-year to a two-year agreement is a good outcome for both parties as discussions consume a considerable amount of time away from the students’ core purpose of being here to focus on their class work,” Greiner said. “The extended timeframe of the contract will also allow additional time for both sides to evaluate and see trends that will help contribute positively to future discussions.”   

Leadership at the Union is also due for a shuffling as some of the founding members step aside to bolster fresh talent. 

“My plan has from the beginning been to make this my last semester serving in a leadership capacity in the union,” McCartan said. “We have some people who are second-years now who might want to run for leadership.”

The newest contract is only one step along what McCartan hopes will be a long path for the first undergraduate student workers’ union in the country. 

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