Structures of Solidarity: Undergraduate Student Workers Unite!
The common workplace issues of low pay, toxic environment, understaffing, corporate greed, wage theft, union busting, and high turnover also exist in institutions of higher education. Undergraduate students typically earn low wages at campus jobs. In this podcast we explore the concept that students are workers, due just wages and benefits and voice. Beginning in 2016, undergraduate students at Grinnell College in Iowa have worked to form the first union of undergraduate student workers, the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW). Union leaders, senior Keir Hichens and sophomore Malcolm Galpern Levin, are with us to give us the history of the movement, along with details of their organizing strategies. The union’s description is as “the only independent undergraduate labor union in the country, UGSDW fights for fair pay and benefits for workers at UGSDW.” Keir and Malcolm describe the context, the organizing process, the setbacks, the networks and coalitions, the victories, and the future expansion of the union. Students at Grinnell are discovering what collective power can do. As they work for transparency and accountability from their supervisors and the administration, they also address issues of food insecurity on campus. Keir and Malcolm provide insights on the value of undergraduate labor organizing to their own lives, to campus culture, and to the labor movement broadly.