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“Moving Ahead:” Kington outlines next steps for College and UGSDW

At 3:12 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, Grinnell College President Raynard Kington sent out a Special Campus Memo entitled “Moving On,” which informed students, faculty and staff of the actions the College will take in the “near future” to improve the student work experience in response to the concerns raised by the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers’ attempted expansion efforts, including partial union expansion and the creation of a new financial aid task force.

In 2018, the union attempted to move to include all workers employed by the College. The College opposed the union’s attempt, arguing that student on-campus jobs are primarily educational. The conflict went to the National Labor Relations Board and incurred backlash from alumni. 

Thursday’s email represents an acquiescence on the College’s part to support the stated goals of the student union expansion; the College went as far as supporting possible “selective expansion” of the Union to certain non-dining positions on campus, according to the email. 

According to Jacob Schneyer ‘21, UGSDW member at large, the union received a letter from Kington a few hours before the special campus memo. Schneyer said that the letter stated that the administration would draw up a list of expanded membership positions within the next ten days, after which the administration would meet with UGSDW representatives to negotiate these terms. 

“It’s very, very good that they’re willing to negotiate,” Schneyer said. “This is clearly the result of pressure that our members have been applying through direct action and other parts of our campaign this whole time.”

In a statement to The S&B emailed by the College’s senior content strategist for media relations, Lisa Lacher, Kington wrote that this step forward in terms of College and student union relations is because the union indicated only recently that it is willing to consider an option for selective expansion of the union. “We believe there is an opportunity to reach a solution in a way that does not undermine the College’s educational mission,” wrote Lacher.

Schneyer said that the union cannot agree to any deal with the College of which their members don’t approve, especially since a deal could potentially exclude certain union members from the formal bargaining unit. To this end, the union plans to discuss negotiating with the College at their regularly scheduled general meeting in March. 

Schneyer stated that the union is willing to make previously stated concessions, such as a cap of wages and not asking for information covered by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

In response to one of the union’s arguments that the College does not pay students enough to support themselves as a part of financial aid, Kington wrote that Board of Trustees Chair Patricia Finkelman ‘80 is appointing a Board Task Force on Student Financial Support and Success led by alumna and Boston University School of Law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig ‘94 to evaluate Grinnell’s financial aid from the perspective of students and the institution. The task force will consist of students, faculty, staff and alumni. More information on the specifics of this task force is forthcoming in the following days.

Kington also wrote that Dean of the Center for Careers, Life and Service Mark Peltz will head an initiative “to ensure that students’ personal growth and professional development are an even more central focus of these opportunities.” Additionally, Kington specified that the College will create a position to focus on this effort. 

In an email to the S&B, Peltz wrote that he envisions the individual holding this position to serve as a resource for students.

“Meeting one’s economic needs and achieving one’s personal, civic, and professional goals should not be mutually exclusive,” Peltz wrote. 

Peltz cited Service Learning Work Study positions as an example of College programming that provides that opportunity to achieve all these goals. Service Learning Work Study participants volunteer or intern for community organizations and get paid through the federal work study funding, giving students who may not have economic privilege to hold an unpaid internship or volunteer position the opportunity to do so with compensation.

Susan Sanning, the associate dean and director of service and social innovation for the CLS, said that outlining educational goals at the beginning of the program allows SLWS participants to have an educational experience while working. 

“I’m really glad that the campus [the College] is taking the potential of campus employment seriously, from a professional perspective, personal perspective and civic perspective,” said Sanning.

Peltz wrote that “helping students simultaneously meet their economic needs and attain their education goals is on the minds of the Board of Trustees.”

Members of the union disrupted the meeting of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 8 to negotiate a “labor relations framework,” according to the letter they released following the actions.

“They can tell that we can make it legitimately harder for the College to function if they don’t pay attention to us and that makes them have to take us seriously,” Schneyer said. 

Kington wrote that the title of the memo, “Moving On,” is “intended to communicate proactive steps and actions the College is undertaking to address several issues that have been raised in recent months.”

“My guess is that he wants to portray this as the beginning of the end … I don’t think that’s accurate. To me this is just another step in the process,” Schneyer said. 

Schneyer said that he has not seen confirmation yet that the College has recognized the union’s key principle of collective bargaining, that it’s up to the workers themselves if they can unionize.

“That [lack of recognition] will not result in a deal, so then we will not be moving forward,” he said.

In a separate statement to The S&B, emailed by Lacher, Kington wrote that “The conversation in our community about the expansion of the union has been very difficult, and it is time for us to move forward with a shared deep devotion to this college. I am hopeful that the steps described in the Campus Memo will contribute toward addressing a number of the concerns raised in these debates and, as important, be the first steps toward the healing of our community.”

On Feb. 8, UGSDW members protested at the Board of Trustees event, pushing for the College to continue to negotiate with students.
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