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The Scarlet & Black

Historic UGSDW election underway

The+election%2C+which+is+being+held+through+mail-in-ballots%2C+will+determine+whether+UGSDW+will+expand+to+all+eligible+student+workers.+Photo+by+Ohana+Sarvotham.
The election, which is being held through mail-in-ballots, will determine whether UGSDW will expand to all eligible student workers. Photo by Ohana Sarvotham.

Student workers are now able to vote on the expansion of the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW), which would expand the union to represent and bargain for all hourly student workers at Grinnell.

Eligible voters received mail-in ballots in their campus mailboxes to fill out and mail back to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Votes will be counted on April 21.

The election is a long time coming, said Sofia Carr `22, who formerly served as president of the UGSDW and is currently an advisor to UGSDW Executive Board.

“It’s a huge deal,” Carr said. “Having been here for four years and having talked to student workers and hearing that the work experience here is sometimes a detriment to our overall experience here — it feels amazing to know that there will be this long-standing way to combat that … and I hope people vote yes. So that we can start to take back some things that have not been granted to us.”

Carr was on campus for the UGSDW’s previous expansion attempt, which resulted in the union withdrawing its petition for election due to the risks posed by the College administration appealing the result of the vote to the NLRB.

“Unfortunately, the administration then was doing everything it could to stop us,” Cory McCartan `19, one of the founders of the UGSDW, said. “They hired four lawyers from Proskauer Rose, one of the top white-shoe law firms in the country, who specialized in union-busting. They immediately

appealed our election to the NLRB and asked it to overturn the existing law, regardless of the consequences on the broader student labor movement.”

However, due to changes in leadership at both Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees and administration, according to Carr, both the UGSDW and the Board of Trustees signed a neutrality agreement, which allowed for a smoother election procedure without the College making any appeals.

Students who are eligible to vote by mail are defined as degree- seeking, hourly employees who are employed by Grinnell College. Voter turnout will be important, according to UGSDW secretary-treasurer Lu Johnston `24.

“We are hopeful that we will have high voter turnout,” Johnston said. “We think that people are excited for this, so we’re hopeful that our turnout is great and that a lot of people are willing to vote.”

According to Johnston, students who are eligible to vote should mail their ballots in by April 15, so they can be counted on April 21.

“The way the NLRB is doing it is there will be a Zoom meeting and the union will be hosting a watch-along where they are counting the ballots … we will know as soon as the NLRB knows and [that] will also be when the College knows,”Johnston said.

After votes are counted, if UGSDW wins, they will move into campus-wide bargaining with the College.

“That’s kind of difficult, because bargaining is weird,” Carr said. “Like, it’s students who have been told that your opinion doesn’t matter, going into a room with the people who told you that your opinion doesn’t matter, and arguing for … the right to better working conditions.”

The process for this isn’t concrete yet, according to Johnston and Carr, but UGSDW will be prioritizing getting insight from each workplace, with meetings taking place involving “shop stewards,” student workers who will listen to concerns in their workplace and potentially help bargain.

“If it goes through, this expansion will really be a first for the U.S.,” McCartan said. “Every student worker on campus — and nearly all students work at least one job in their time at Grinnell — will be a member of a labor union.”

This election is taking place alongside other undergraduate labor movements, but the success of the election would make Grinnell the first fully unionized undergraduate school. Carr reflected on this, and her time as the UGSDW president.

If it goes through, this expansion will really be a first for the U.S. – Cory McCartan `19, UGSDW founder

“I was grabbing my ballot and I was like, this is real solid evidence that we did something and we’re doing something here,” Carr said. “And it helps to see it happen everywhere else too, like, we’re not just screaming into a void, we’re a part of something that’s a lot bigger.”

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Ellianna Cierpiot, News Editor
Ellianna Cierpiot is a second-year English major & Film and Media Studies concentrator hailing from Kansas City, KS. Their interests include poetry, horror movies, and, recently, giraffes, but their journalistic interests lie in investigative explorations of how policy affects lives. They probably want to watch a movie together sometime.
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