By Julia Echikson
The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) is fighting to increase the hourly wages of Dining Hall student workers to $9.25 from $9.60.
“Wage increase should be tied to tuition increase,” said Sam Xu ’20, the Union’s treasurer. The Union wants wages to reflect the 3.9 percent tuition increase.
“Work study wages are part of the financial aid package,” added Cory McCartan ’19, the president of the Union. “You get paid for your college education. If the price of your education goes up, your work study should match that.”
The Grinnell College administration disagrees. “The comprehensive fee is established using many more factors than wages and would not be appropriate to treat the two as being directly proportionate,” wrote Mary Greiner, Grinnell College’s assistant VP of human resources, in an email to The S&B.
Last year, after seven years of no hourly wage increase, the administration agreed to raise wages by 8.8 percent, going to $9.25 from $8.50 an hour.
Both the Union and administration agree that the Dining Hall is understaffed, but disagree on how to resolve the issue. The Union thinks that by increasing the hourly wages more student will sign up for shifts, while the administration believes that other incentivising measures are more effective to retain staff.
“Raising wages did not eliminate our work shift shortage and based on the research and analysis we have gathered it appears the work labor shortage is attributed to scheduling as a relates to students class schedules,” Greiner wrote.
The 2016-2017 contract granted a 0.25 cent per hour premium to students who worked 110 hours in a semester and picked up two shifts during finals’ week. This year, the Union’s proposed measures include increasing “the number of semesters the $.25 per hour incentive is granted from three to four semesters” and “offer[ing] a $.75 per hour premium for those difficult-to fill-shifts,” which tend to be during Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunch hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m..
As recently as Tuesday, the administration offered the hourly wages be raised by an amount “comparable to the increases the regular staff received this July,” Greiner wrote. The administration is waiting for response from the Union.
To allow a testing period and because of the high student worker turnover, the employment contract is drafted and brought to negotiation every year. The administration is thinking about making contracts on a two-year basis in the future.
Before the end of the 2017 Spring semester, the College proposed that wages increase to $9.35 in the 2018 Spring semester, and the Union rejected the offer. Over the summer, administrators drafted another proposal, offering wages increase to $9.40 starting in the 2017 Fall semester. The members again rejected the offer.
The Union has since launched campaigns in support of the higher wage. On Labour Day, the Union distributed flyers in the Dining Hall and all over campus “to communicate our point, our rational behind our demand,” Xu said.
In addition to flyers, the Union also silently protested through their “Work-to-Rule Campaign,” wherein student followed all workplace regulations as deliberately as possible in order to slow down service. “The point we [UGSDW] wanted to communicate is that the membership is going to take things very seriously and is willing to act as it sees appropriate,” Xu said.
Xu insists that there is “no animosity” between the Union and the administration. Greiner adds, “We [administration] respect the students rights to voice their concerns and requests as long as it is done in a respectful and non-violent manner and is not disruptive to other students learning and living environment.”
“We have our disagreements. Beside the wage, we have reached agreements of many other issues,” Xu admits. Despite no contract having been signed, other terms and conditioned are in the process or have been implemented. Xu points to health and safety meetings. Every month, there will be meetings in which workers can discuss health and safety concerns.
The UGSDW is the first independent union for undergraduate students in the United States. It is entirely run by students and is not part of a larger professional labour union, unlike other undergraduate unions. The Union receives no professional help or legal guidance. The ‘bargaining team,’ only comprised of student workers, negotiates with the administration.