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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

UGSDW continues to push for wage increases, adjusts strategy and goals to the pandemic

From left: Tosha Skolnik, Jacob Schneyer and David Macdonald, all ’21, Emily Wunsch and Henry Cladouhos, both ’20, and Jack Watkins ’21 attend the UGSDW rally. Photo by Kaya Matsuura.

Under an overcast sky, 24 students gathered in front of the JRC last Saturday afternoon to represent and stand in solidarity with the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW). Their destination: Anne Harris’ front yard.

The UGSDW rally’s primary purpose was to demand that the administration raise the student wage by a dollar as a means of creating more equitable work environments. This issue has become especially prevalent in the face of the pandemic and remote learning, during which many students have lost their on-campus jobs or faced reduced hours.

This the latest in a series of various issues that UGSDW has taken up with the College. In the fall of 2019, the Union successfully gained a wage increase, but they failed to expand the Union’s bargaining power to encompass all student workers on campus.

Dining worker Audrey Boyle ’21 said, “There are so many fewer shifts in the dining hall right now that students aren’t able to pick up as many as like you normally would. Just the way the schedule works, you can only pick up shifts over five days every ten days. It’s really not a living wage at all.”

The rally consisted of a short introduction led by Ryland Rich ’22 and a march from campus to Anne Harris’ home, with the group partaking in chants and songs accompanied by a group member’s guitar. Throughout the quiet Grinnell streets, students could be heard singing, “We’re gonna roll the Union on” and calling out, “We can’t wait another day, we demand better pay.” Campus Safety lingered two blocks away for a large portion of the function.

Just the way the schedule works, you can only pick up shifts over five days every ten days. It’s really not a living wage at all. – Audrey Boyle ’21

Upon their arrival, the socially distanced group gathered on the street to hear from various student speakers. Jack Watkins ’21, a member of the Union’s executive board, spoke on the bargaining process with the College thus far, saying that administrators have been “reactionary and obtrusive from the first day we set foot at the bargaining table.” Watkins described the school’s resistance to make any changes to the current contract despite the drastic alterations that occurred to student life and work as a result of the pandemic.

Emily Wunsch ’22 then shared her reason for marching. Wunsch has worked in the Dining Hall for three years and currently holds a student leader position. “Over the years as fewer and fewer students want to work in the Dining Hall and as the conditions of understaffing get worse and worse, I am taking on more and more jobs,” she said. During some shifts, Wunsch said she is expected to fulfill as many as three different roles.

Wunsch also belongs to a large group of students whose families have suffered financial harm due to the pandemic, forcing them to question whether tuition payments will continue to be manageable, a story with parallels across the country.

Rich concluded the speeches, inviting the group to label the sidewalk and street with chalk-written messages to Harris. Students wrote bright red, orange and blue phrases such as “We want fair wages,” “Listen to your students Anne Harris” and “We know you can pay us more”.

Harris responded to the rally in a statement emailed to The S&B, writing, “I respect and encourage students to exercise their right to free assembly as they did. Further, I understand that the students participating in the event were wearing masks, and I want to thank them for their stewardship of community health. As the College and the Union are currently in contract negotiations, I am not at liberty to discuss Union-related content.”

Students write slogans in front of Anne Harris’s house during a UGSDW rally last weekend. Photos by Kaya Matsuura.

College bargaining team leaders Mary Greiner, assistant VP of Human Resources, and lawyer Frank Harty, declined to comment on the action, saying that Harris’ response was representative of the negotiation group as a whole.

The rally signals the beginning of the Union’s plans for the year. UGSDW President Jacob Schneyer said, “This is kind of our opening action to make sure that [Harris] knows we’re paying attention to her. We know she has the authority here, and she has the responsibility here, and kind of saying, ‘This is what it’s gonna be going forward and we’re gonna continue escalating from here until we get the raise that we’re asking for.’”

Schneyer said that although UGSDW doesn’t have any concrete plans for future actions, they do intend to remain vigilant and are also making efforts to include all Union members that currently reside in and outside of Grinnell through media platforms like Facebook Live.

He also added, “We are thinking about and preparing to possibly strike.” Schneyer stressed that the logistics behind a strike would require much planning and thought, but that the action was on the table.

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