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Bargaining in limbo: Union and Grinnell College file dueling complaints

Meilynn Smith
From left: UGSDW executive board members Leo Goldman `27 (secretary), Donovan Wilcox `27, Conrad Dahm `26 (co-president) and Amika Matteson `26 during a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The Union is working to settle Unfair Labor Practice complaints filed in May 2023.

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers’ (UGSDW) and Grinnell College’s return to the bargaining table remains uncertain in the face of two pending Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaints. 

The ULP complaints (ULPs), one from the College alleging bad faith bargaining on the basis of an “illegal strike” and one from UGSDW alleging the College’s refusal to bargain and coercive statements, were filed in May 2023 after UGSDW membership authorized a vote for Community Advisors (CAs) to go on strike. 

UGSDW and the College disagree on the efficacy of resuming collective bargaining sessions while the ULPs are unresolved. Since the last mediated session was held on April 27, 2023, both parties have not returned to collective bargaining sessions.

“There’s nothing legally saying that you can’t bargain while ULPs are being adjudicated,” Hannah Sweet `25, newly elected co-president of UGSDW, said. 

Ellen de Graffenreid, vice president of communications and marketing, wrote in an email to The S&B, “The College believes that the subjects of both ULPs are important points of disagreement that need to be resolved before bargaining will be productive.”  

In an earlier phone call with The S&B, de Graffenreid also said, “The College is eager to bargain as soon as possible.”

“The College has refused to come to the table, basically leveraging us withdrawing ULPs in exchange for them to reenter the bargaining phase,” claimed Sweet. 

“The College has refused to come to the table, basically leveraging us withdrawing ULPs in exchange for them to reenter the bargaining phase,” claimed Union co-president Hannah Sweet `25. (Meilynn Smith)

To resolve the ULPs, UGSDW and the College must either wait for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to rule on the ULPs or each party can choose to withdraw their ULPs.

Sweet and Conrad Dahm `26, also newly elected co-president of UGSDW, said UGSDW is currently working on a settlement with the College regarding each party’s ULPs.  

“We’re finalizing language now,” Sweet said of the settlement. She said she hopes to send this settlement out to the UGSDW membership to vote on by this week, but the settlement must first go to the College for review. 

If membership were to vote against the settlement, collective bargaining would continue to hang upon the adjudications of the NLRB. Dahm said in the past, it has taken over a year to settle other ULP charges.

A previous ULP charge filed in Aug. of 2022 by UGSDW over a refusal to furnish information was not settled until Nov. 9, 2023. The NLRB also did not rule on this charge and rather the College and UGSDW settled the matter independently. 

Part of the settlement regarding the 2023 ULPs includes the College dropping its own ULP filed against UGSDW over what the College views as an unlawful strike, referring to the May 2023 strike. In an email sent on May 9, 2023, to all Grinnell College students, Jana Grimes, vice president for human resources, and Mark Watts, director of payroll and student employment, wrote that the strike was illegal due to no declaration of impasse in collective bargaining sessions. 

Sweet said she stands by the legality of the strike as only student dining workers were subject to the no-strike clause present in the now-expired dining contract. Article 2, Section 4 of the expired contract also stated dining workers would not be punished for refusing to cross a primary picket line if it were legally established by other student workers. 

“Because no one else is under contract, they have the right to strike at any point,” Sweet said in reference to student workers outside of dining services. “It was never unlawful for CAs, who we were kind of targeting to do most of the striking, to not show.”

De Graffenreid wrote that the College cannot discuss legal arguments, but pointed to the Aug. 1, 2022 voluntary addition of CAs in the Neutrality Agreement between the College and UGSDW. In an open letter to the Grinnell campus the day before the May 2023 strike began, the College wrote that CAs, since they were now subject to the Neutrality Agreement, “may not vote to strike independent of UGSDW.”

De Graffenreid added that no student workers were punished for participation in the strike. 

Dahm confirmed he knew of no student workers who faced punitive consequences but said that before the strike, he had spoken to some student workers who reported to him that they were allegedly threatened by supervisors of their workplace – one such workplace being Spencer Grill. He said he believed the reason no student workers were punished for participating in the strike was due to UGSDW’s quick email responses on the legality of the strike.

The Union elected new members to the executive board in December 2023. (Meilynn Smith)
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About the Contributors
Taylor Nunley
Taylor Nunley, Community Editor
Taylor is a second-year Classics and English double major from Huntington, West Virginia. Her life-long goal is to ride as many forms of transportation as possible.
Meilynn Smith
Meilynn Smith, Staff Photographer
Meilynn is a first-year from Vancouver, Washington. She is an intended biology major and wants to go into physical therapy in the future. She enjoys playing soccer, hanging out with friends, going on hikes, and photographing wildlife. 
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