UGSDW rallies, negotiations continue behind closed doors


Owen Barbato

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers held a rally before the Nov. 10, 2023 collective bargaining session in support of just cause for academic workers and keeping negotiations open to an in-person audience.

Ellianna Cierpiot, Staff Writer

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) led a rally protesting Grinnell College closing collective bargaining to in-person audiences before the bargaining session on Thursday, Nov. 10. The College informed the union that they intended to close bargaining following the Oct. 27 session during which members of the audience laughed following a response from Frank Harty, legal counsel to the College, over a question about the definition of academic freedom.

“[W]e have come to the conclusion that the disrespectful interruptions no longer allow us to continue bargaining with an audience present,” wrote Brad Lindberg, associate vice president of institutional initiatives and enrollment, in an email to the UGSDW bargaining team. 

“We didn’t think it was a disruption,” said Executive Board Member-at-Large Malcolm Galpern-Levin `24. 

The UGSDW bargaining team offered to open the bargaining session with a request to the audience to keep their conduct respectful, but the College did not move from its position of holding closed sessions and making a WebEx livestream available for viewing. 

Approximately 30 students rallied outside the Joe Rosenfield Center, holding signs that read “Grinnell: Bargain now! No more threats!” and chanting in support of both re-opening bargaining to an audience and including academic workers under Just Cause protections, before walking through the Humanities and Social Studies Center to stand outside the bargaining room.

During the bargaining session, the UGSDW and College bargaining teams continued to discuss the release of protected student information. The College’s bargaining team stated again their concerns about FERPA restrictions and proposed an information-release waiver to UGSDW, which was rejected. According to UGSDW’s bargaining team, they have concerns that student workers are not informed about what the information release would entail, and therefore, workers might be dissuaded from releasing their information. Because of this, UGSDW’s bargaining team said they would be willing to consider the FERPA release waivers only if their new proposal on a mandated union orientation was accepted by the College. 

UGSDW’s orientation proposal would require a room provided by the College and payment for the employees’s time in attendance. They also said in the bargaining session that the orientation would be mandatory for all student workers, who would not be able to work at Grinnell College without completing this training. When asked about the possibility of students to opt-out of the orientation, UGSDW’s team said employees could be permitted to submit a written statement to the College requesting to do so. 

The discussion on the orientation reached a standstill because, according to Harty, an employer cannot mandate whether or not workers participate in union activities as a condition of their employment, pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 731. 

Both parties also discussed the terms of UGSDW’s grievance proposal, including the proposed timeline of the grievance and arbitration process. According to UGSDW’s proposal, the final step in the grievance process, which would be taken only if previous steps fail, would involve three arbitrators. Each arbitrator would be paid by both UGSDW and the College, according to this proposal. Members of the College’s team raised concerns about this, saying that the College is unable to pay individuals who do not work for the College. Additionally, the College’s team questioned who could serve as an arbitrator, but no decision was reached. 

At the end of the session, Harty brought up Section 1.1 of the College’s proposals, describing it as “low-hanging fruit.” Section 1.1 is a statement that summarizes who UGSDW represents — the College proposal specifies that the union serves as the exclusive bargaining representative for degree-seeking individuals who are paid hourly and also for community advisors. 

UGSDW’s team did not accept the college’s proposal, citing concerns over the specification of hourly workers, and they also stated their interest in including in the bargaining unit students whose sole employment in the College is a research fellowship from grants outside of the College.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17.

As student workers, all staff members of the S&B will be included in future collective bargaining. The S&B remains an independent newspaper and is committed to maintaining its integrity in reporting.