After more than a semester of work, members of the Student Worker Organizing Committee have gathered more than the required number of student signatures to petition the College to recognize a union of student workers.
According to Tyron Moore, a member of SWOC, they reached their goal of more than 50 percent of the potential bargaining unit a few weeks after Spring Break. Since then they have been waiting for explicit support of the United Auto Workers International - the union they would be a part of - before bringing the petitions to the College.
Moore said they just gathered signatures from dining hall workers. If recognized, the union would be a separate bargaining unit within the same local that represents full-time, non-student dining hall workers.
Once SWOC gets the support of the international union, Moore said they plan to present the signatures to the Offices of Human Resources and Residential Life and Services. The College can voluntarily recognize the union, or if they can refuse, the National Labor Relations Board would run an election on campus.
"Of course we hope the College would support the students' democratic right to organize, but if not we plan to conduct a pressure campaign," Moore said.
Moore said SWOC has gained endorsements from a number of student organizations, as well as professors.
But before they move on to a pressure campaign, or even presenting their signatures to the College, SWOC members must get an explicit endorsement from the UAW, something that hasn't come yet.
"Members of SWOC are frustrated at the delays and bureaucratic blocks that we ran into from the UAW, but at the same time we have been very encouraged by the support we've received from UAW workers on campus," Moore said.
College officials question the need for a union of student workers. Ruth Spencer, director of human resources, said students need to determine what the specific effects of a union would be.
"The critical question is what is it going to do and are there other forms to do what is desired that might be more efficient or desired," Spencer said. "You have to determine what is really to be gained and what is to be traded-off, because there are always trade-offs."
"This isn't the only avenue for students to have a voice," she said.
Spencer has not been informed about the SWOC organizing drive. She did not know what the potential bargaining unit would be, and had many questions about the impact of unionization.
Spencer said the needs of student workers, who work five or 10 hours a week, are very different from the needs of full-time workers. "Earning spending money is very different than earning a living," she said.
President Nancy Dye said she didn't have enough information to comment on the prospect of unionizing student workers.
SWOC members remain convinced that unionization is needed for student workers at Oberlin.
Moore said that student workers he spoke to ranged from very supportive to staunchly anti-union. "The average response was a lot of questions," Moore said. "People wanted to know why there should be a union and the particulars of what it would look like."
Moore said that the negative responses came from both disinterest, and genuine opposition to a union. He also said the exact percent of students who support the union is hard to gauge, since the number of workers fluctuates.
In the meantime, while SWOC members have been gathering signatures, the student interns at the Student Employment Office have been responding to student demand for a grievance procedure.
Junior Aileen Seoane, one of the interns, said the idea for a campus-wide grievance procedure came up last semester, but work just started after Winter Term.
Before the SEO took on this project the only student workers to have a grievance procedure worked in the dining halls, but according to LaQuanya Phillips, a junior and SEO intern, many dining hall workers were dissatisfied with the procedure.
While Seoane said the procedure is still being drafted, the basic outline is pretty clear.
"We are looking at a three-step process," Seoane said. The first step would be a meeting between the worker and their supervisor, the second would be mediation, and the third would be a hearing in front of a committee. "People could bring cases to the board, sort of like J or Community Board."
Moore said members of SWOC have been working with the SEO interns to create the new policy. He stressed that the procedure is not a substitute for a union. "SWOC totally supports the creation of a grievance procedure," he said. "In their eyes it in no way contradicts the general need for a union at Oberlin. It is just one step in the right direction."
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 22, April 30, 1999
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