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The Dartmouth
February 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Election to create student dining worker union to be held in March

The College will accept the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth’s status as a union if over 50% of voters vote “yes.”


The College and the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth, an organization currently engaged in efforts to organize student dining workers, have agreed to terms for an election to decide whether the union will be given official College recognition. College President Phil Hanlon denied the initial request and referred the process to the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 28. 

The agreement was approved by the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 18, according to a Monday press release from the College. The release noted that ballots will be sent out to student dining workers who have worked at least 4.5 hours between Oct. 13, 2021, and Feb. 5, 2022 on March 1, and will be counted on March 30. According to student organizers, the unionization effort will succeed if over 50% of voters vote “yes.”

On Jan. 5, student organizers sent an open letter to the College asking that it voluntarily recognize the union. At the time, the SWCD claimed that over two-thirds of workers had signed cards signaling their support for the union. On Jan. 28, Hanlon sent a response letter in which he declined voluntary recognition and referred student organizers to vice president of campus services Josh Keniston to begin the process of organizing an NLRB-sanctioned election.  

If SWCD succeeds in its efforts to unionize, organizer Ian Scott ’24 — who works at the Class of ’53 Commons — said the organization intends to elect officers from within its own ranks to govern the union and to ensure that workers from each DDS location have elected representatives. He added that because most students work part time, dues would be relatively low compared to other unions.

Vice president of institutional projects Josh Keniston said in the press statement that the College intends to ensure an election with maximum participation and minimal delay. He added that the election is “momentous” and will “affect all students and Dartmouth for years to come.” 

According to the press release, the College has pledged to remain neutral on the question of whether student dining workers should organize.

Union organizer and Novack Cafe worker Mariana Peñaloza Morales ’22 said that communications with the College have improved “significantly” over time. 

Peñaloza Morales said that the initial delay in the College’s response to the SWCD’s Jan. 5 letter worried the group, but those worries have subsided after being in “constant conversation” with the College about elections following Hanlon’s Jan. 28 response. She also noted that the College has a “long history of being cordial with SEIU [Service Employees International Union, the wider Dartmouth staff union] on campus.” 

Scott echoed those sentiments. While acknowledging his disappointment in the College’s rejection of voluntary recognition, he said that, in his view, the College has been more open to unionization of student-workers than other institutions, such as Kenyon College and Columbia University.

According to a Nov. 1, 2021 press release from Kenyon College, the NLRB indefinitely postponed an Oct. 18, 2021 petition filed on behalf of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee to consider legal issues after Kenyon College filed a motion to “dismiss or stay the petition.” These legal issues included considering whether an election of exclusively undergraduate students is “appropriate under federal labor law,” according to the release.  

Responding to a similar unionization effort at Columbia, Columbia provost Mary Boyce wrote in a Jan. 28 letter that the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW voted to ratify its first contract with the university, with 97% of the 2,150 votes cast in favor of ratification. The ratification came after the union went on strike twice and rejected one contract. 

SWCD’s organizers said they are optimistic that the union will win the election and gain College recognition. 

“I believe very strongly that the union is here to stay, and I’m very confident that we will win the election when we have it, and that this will mark a new period for student organizing and for student power on this campus,” Scott said.

Alejandro Morales ’24, who also works at Novack, echoed Scott’s optimism.

“We have the numbers,” they said, adding that the SWCD has reached 80% of DDS student workers, all of whom supported the union. They said that the union is necessary to ensure fair compensation for workers. 

“I personally want unionization because I’ve seen the tasks that students have to do regardless of their position especially [Fall 2021] which was really hard on a lot of Novack workers and other DDS location workers,” they said. 

Morales ’24 also said that the union is needed to make permanent previously achieved goals, such as earlier efforts in the fall that pushed the College toward instituting temporary 1.5-times pay for DDS workers and COVID-19 sick pay for all student-workers. 

“We feel that the right way to go about it is to compensate workers more fairly and more justly for their work,” Morales said. “All of that can only be achieved, in our eyes, in a fair and effective way, through unionization.”

Alejandro Morales is a member of The Dartmouth staff.