BOSTON -- In a first for Dartmouth College, student workers have voted to unionize.
The college announced the successful vote Wednesday involving around 150 students working in the dining hall that provides meals to students living in college housing. It had pledged to remain neutral during the election and said it accepted the results. The vote, according to The Dartmouth, was 52-0. It was tallied by the National Labor Relations Board.
“Dartmouth believes this election was fair and took place under a framework that allowed for participation by students from as many terms as possible,” Joshua Keniston, vice president of campus services and institutional projects, said in a statement. “We respect the students’ choice and look forward to developing a strong relationship with the collective.”
The push by the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth started in January. In a letter to the administration, the students said they were hoping to make Dartmouth “a flourishing community for all” and aimed to give students a greater voice in decision-making.
Some of its concerns were specific to work conditions, including a demand to pay all workers for missed hours due to COVID-19 isolation. But it went beyond dining, accusing the administration of failing to respond to a range of issues including mental health and rising rents.
“We hold that it is not possible to effectively govern the College in such a way as to benefit its real shareholders, its students and workers, without first hearing their voices,” the students said in their letter.
Following the vote to unionize, the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth welcomed the victory but said that this was just the “beginning of a larger struggle.”
“We must now fight for a contract that provides better wages, benefits, and workplace environments, and we must continue to build power on the Dartmouth campus and in the Upper Valley region for workers,” the group said in a statement.
The vote demonstrates that union drives on college campus are picking up steam at both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Dartmouth joins Hamilton College in New York, Grinnell College in Iowa and Wesleyan University in Connecticut where undergraduates voted in the past two years to unionize, according to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College. Graduates students at the University of New Mexico, University of California and Clark University in Massachusetts have also formed unions in those two years.
William Herbert, the Center's executive director, said the growth of unions on college campuses has been fueled in part by the National Labor Relations Board 2017 ruling that graduate and undergraduate assistants at Columbia University are entitled to the rights and protections under federal labor law.
The Columbia graduate teaching and research assistants walked off the job in 2018 to try to pressure the university to recognize their decision to unionize. The union, which has about 3,000 members, reached a tentative agreement with Columbia earlier this year.
It also has been helped by the rising cost of college and a desire, especially during the pandemic, for students to have a greater voice in school affairs.
“Student workers, like workers in other occupations, unionize to improve their working conditions including salary and benefits,” he said. “One driver of unionization is the extensiveness of student debt at this time. In order to be able to pay for college, students have to work. The more money they receive through their work, the easier it will be to pay for the cost of their education.”