Student Unionization

At Grinnell, we are proud of our long history championing education, access, and social justice and the strong partnerships we have with the unions on our campus. We are dedicated to creating meaningful, flexible, and educational work experiences for every student who requests one. These positions – often working in close collaboration with faculty and staff – are a distinctive part of the educational experience at Grinnell and an important component of the College’s commitment to meet 100% of the financial need of its students.

Our concerns about the expansion of the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) to include all student workers on campus are driven only by the potential harm we believe this particular change could have on the Grinnell College community specifically and on the College’s ability to meet its educational mission. Based on careful consideration, we believe a campus-wide expansion of the student union could:

  • Limit educational and professional development opportunities for students;
  • Introduce privacy concerns; and
  • Fundamentally alter the vital relationship between students and faculty.

As a result, we believe strongly that appealing this issue to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a necessary next step to ensure Grinnell’s distinctive culture and educational approach.

The Potential Impact of Union Rules on the Grinnell College Community

At Grinnell, we appreciate the partnerships we have with unions. We are concerned, however, that expanding UGSDW to include more than 70% of students on our campus will take away from Grinnell’s distinctive approach to education, in which individually advised learning takes place both in and out of the classroom:

  • Limits on Student Assignments – As a result of union rules that could apply to all student work, regardless of job type, faculty could be limited in working directly and freely with students to design research or teaching assignments that meet the students’ academic interests.
  • Limits on Hiring – Union rules would likely dictate that faculty and staff fill positions based on seniority, rather than on a student’s unique skills, interests, or experience. This would mean that faculty and staff might not be able to select the candidates they believe are best suited for the positions.
  • Limits on Scheduling – The ability to tailor work schedules to a student’s unique needs could be compromised. For example, a research assistant might have to, or choose to, work longer or later hours to complete a project by a deadline or before final exams begin. However, potential union demands may limit that flexibility.
  • Limits on Advising – Faculty also serve as advisors, both formally and informally, to Grinnell students. This is a cornerstone of our academic community. If all student workers are represented by a union, this may limit the ability of professors to freely advise students on certain issues without potentially violating union rules and federal labor laws.
  • Unacceptable Personal Disclosures – Union rules might also require the College to reveal a student’s financial status to the union and possibly to the faculty or staff member seeking to hire the student. This is inconsistent with the culture and ethos of Grinnell.
  • Interference with Shared Governance – An expanded union might also interfere with the model of shared governance that guides decision-making at the College. Many different groups have input into most College decisions, including students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni. A union that represents all student workers at the College potentially introduces an outside party, whose priorities are more likely economic as opposed to educational, into the College’s governance. This could have significant unintended consequence by giving the union a role in matters that are inherently academic in nature.

A Note on Student Wages and Tuition

Grinnell continues to be committed to meeting the entirety of the demonstrated financial need of all admitted students through a comprehensive system of grants, loans, and work. Wages for student workers are just one way in which the College supports its students financially. We are also continually increasing our financial assistance budget to ensure that need-based financial aid students are not reliant on wages to cover any increases in tuition or fees. As tuition increases, we don't expect need-based students to work more to cover those costs. Instead, their other financial aid increases – most notably, through grants from Grinnell College.