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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Opinion Asks: Dartmouth’s Failure to Recognize the Student Union

Should Dartmouth have recognized the union and what should happen next?

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“The Dartmouth reported on Jan. 28 that the College would not voluntarily recognize the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth, which is seeking to form a union of student dining workers. SWCD claims that 80% of student dining workers support their unionization effort, but the College argues that an election moderated by the National Labor Relations Board “ensures a full airing of points of view on unionization, which we believe students deserve.” Importantly, the decision to not voluntarily recognize the union also extends the process of formalizing the union. (The College has agreed to negotiate with the SWCD to “streamline” the election process.) What is your opinion on Dartmouth’s decision to not recognize the union and how should the College and students proceed going forward?”

The state and federal governments of late have made it clear that regardless of which party is in power, workers are largely on their own if they wish to protect themselves from exploitation. Dartmouth’s sometimes deceiving tax status as a non-profit institution of higher education makes it no different in reality from ordinary businesses in many regards, including labor. Student workers here have wisely chosen to pursue a union to protect their dignity and obtain the fair wages and safe working conditions that all workers deserve. As far as I can tell, the College’s recent move to deny voluntary recognition to the SWCD is simply a delaying tactic. They have already delayed by not issuing their decision on recognition for several weeks after receiving the SWCD’s petition, and now they are delaying even more by requiring that elections be held. Given the College’s apparent neutrality on the matter of the union itself, I’m cautiously optimistic about this process seeing a positive end — where student workers get the union they need — but I do not trust College administrators, nor do I think anyone else should. We do not know the motivation behind these delays. They could simply be seeking to buy time for an anti-union push of some sorts. We must all be on high alert to protect our fellow students, friends and neighbors from exploitation and be ready to push back if the College tries to infringe on students’ right to organize and, if need be, their right to strike. An attack on some of us is an attack on all of us.

– Thomas Lane ’24

Frankly, as someone who has never worked for or known anyone personally who has worked for Dartmouth Dining Services, it is very difficult for me to have an opinion on the workers’ decision to unionize. On one hand, the past year has made it evident that DDS workers are indeed overworked and perform both demanding and necessary jobs. At the same time, I would not call the College’s decision to not immediately recognize the union unreasonable — the union’s establishment on campus will, in all likelihood, entail legal and financial drains on the College. So I do not see it as a necessarily anti-worker position that the College is taking; in fact, I would not be surprised if many in the administration support the sentiments of student workers and believe that they are overworked. Rather, I think that from a legal and structural point of view, the College is taking a step that they see as necessary in order to minimize conflict. 

Though the additional time it entails is regrettable, an election moderated by the National Labor Relations Board should be viewed as a positive development from all parties involved—transparency and formality would only benefit the union should the College eventually recognize it.

– Kavya Nivarthy ’25

While it came as a disappointment, it did not come as a surprise that College President Phil Hanlon had rejected the Student Worker Collective’s request for voluntary recognition of their union and is instead seeking an election governed by the National Labor Relations Board. Over 80%of student workers signed cards expressing their intent on unionizing and it’s disheartening, especially for the future of student advocacy, that Dartmouth is unwilling to meet their requests. Student workers play a huge part in the operations of many of the things we as students enjoy. I am hopeful that the SWCD will succeed and we must all play our part by continuing to uplift the Student Worker Collective and amplifying their message. 

– Jessi Yu ’25

I think the College’s decision is reasonable. Obviously, from the perspective of union-seekers, it’s not ideal, but it’s definitely not terrible. The decision does not outright dismiss the initiative; instead, the administration is showing signs that it is willing to collaborate. The College’s desire to go about this process in a diligent manner is justified. It is a responsible decision to ensure that everyone is aware of different perspectives regarding unionization before a vote is carried out. Although it might take some time, the outcome would leave no doubt as to whether the SWCD has majority status as the representative of the Dartmouth Dining Services student workers. 

– German Leonardo ’25

The time that DDS student workers have devoted to organizing the union over the past several months — and the more than 1,100 signatories who have added their names to the SWCD’s open letter — shows that this union is both necessary and wanted. The SWCD has clearly communicated with the College what their goals are in organizing, what demands they have for the College and why they have these demands. Thus far, some of their main goals have been COVID-19 sick pay and better channels of communication, asks which are not at all outside the realm of what is just and fair for these workers. The College has met some of these goals. However, in choosing not to voluntarily recognize the union, they are extending the amount of time until student workers can have the power of a formal, recognized union behind them to help them fairly advocate for themselves. Going forward, the College must neither make use of union-busting tactics nor try to interfere in the union election in any way; rather, it must accept that this is what students workers want, and this is what is their right to have.

— Katherine Arrington ’24