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The Dartmouth
March 3, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Student union rallies for higher wages, improved mental health policies

150 students attended the Thursday rally outside McNutt Hall, hosted by the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth.

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On Thursday, the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth organized a rally at which leaders of the SWCD, union members and representatives of other local unions called for a $21 per hour base compensation, increased pay for late-night work and improved sick and mental health pay policies for Dartmouth Dining student workers.

Held in front of McNutt Hall at 1 p.m., the rally had approximately 150 people in attendance, according to SWCD chair Kaya Colakoglu ’24. 

“The rally was to raise awareness of where we are in terms of the bargaining process amongst the general campus population, to further involve student workers in the process and invite them to join the bargaining sessions,” Colakoglu said. 

According to Colakoglu, the union has been in negotiations with the College in efforts to reach a contract since this spring. Today, the union met with the College in a bargaining session with a special emphasis on the $21 wage, according to Colakoglu and several others at the rally.

“We will be presenting a comprehensive vision of what that $21 wage would look like on campus,” Colakoglu said before the bargaining session. 

According to an email statement from associate vice president of business and hospitality David Newlove, base wages were last raised in Oct. 2021, at which point student cafe workers started at $15 an hour with $3 an hour of credit towards meal plans. Student snack bar and market workers started at $13 with a $2 an hour meal plan credit, according to Newlove.

In the winter term of 2022, all Dartmouth Dining workers’ pay increased to the overtime rate of one and a half times their base pay shortly after the SWCD went public with its intention to unionize. According to the College at the time, the change was a response to high levels of COVID-19 on campus. 

“During the pandemic, all DDS employees including student workers were given a 1.5x (overtime) increase in pay while working jobs on campus. This program ended June 18, 2022, coinciding with [the] College’s aggressive and effective vaccine program,” he wrote. 

Colakoglu said that the current Dartmouth student wage is “outdated,” noting that some establishments in town pay employees $20 per hour. The current minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25, according to the state department of labor.  

“Aside from that, there’s the fact that throughout the pandemic with the hazard pay program which bumped our wages above $21, the College has demonstrated that it can sustain that pay for at least the majority of a given year without needing to incite any specific structural changes within the dining establishments,” Colakoglu said.

According to Newlove, student workers on campus currently receive pay for their scheduled shifts when they are in isolation or quarantining for COVID-19. In addition to this policy, the union is proposing both generalized sick pay and mental health pay policies that would allow student workers to take time off for both physical and mental health issues. 

Under the mental health pay proposal, workers would be entitled to a given number of hours per term to take off to ensure their emotional well-being based on their hours worked per week, according to Colakoglu. For example, employees would receive two hours of mental health pay for a term in which they work less than eight hours a week. Those working between eight and 16 hours per week would receive four hours of mental health pay per term, and those working more than 16 would receive six hours.

The SWCD is also trying to raise the wage for late-night shifts to roughly $27 an hour. The exact number would depend on individual workers’ normal wages, as the union’s proposition would raise pay on a percentage basis, according to Colakoglu.

Mayumi Miyazato ’25, who works at both Cafe@Baker and Novack cafe, alongside other campus jobs, said she worked at Novack Cafe and took the late night shift for two weeks before changing shifts during the fall term of her freshman year.

“At that time we were finishing our shift at 2 a.m. I would arrive at home at 2:15 and go to sleep at like 3 a.m. The rest of your following day would be terrible,” she said. “People who get the shift, they are actually warriors. That shift is awful.”

Miyazato said that she has worked since her freshman fall to pay for the College’s mandatory health insurance and to send money back to help her mother in Brazil to support her brother as he starts college. Many students also work to afford travel expenses to visit home and cover other living expenses, according to Colakoglu. 

“Novack is a really good environment, but if I could I would decide not to work. I would prefer to go to the [Dartmouth Outing Club], doing hikes, having fun. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to do, it’s not like it’s our choice,” Miyazato said. 

Janet Schaffer, a former organizer with the United Auto Workers Union and an attendee of the rally, noted the importance of raising wages to make it easier for students to return home. 

“If you listen to a lot of these students, they’re saying, ‘I want to go home, I want to see my family,’” she said. “The university can afford to do this, and they should. They should make people’s lives better.”

As an international student, Miyazato, like many of her peers, said that she is allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours per week in keeping with on-campus employment requirements. She added that this means that she is dependent on wage levels to make more money, as opposed to taking on more hours.

In addition to the matter of necessity, according to Miyazato, there is also the question of whether current wages are adequate for the labor workers exert — especially in busy dining locations like Novack. When she worked at Novack, Miyazato said that she frequently burned her hands. In rush hours, she would often use her hands to take hot food out of the oven instead of using the spatula because it took too much time.

“I used to be in the bakery part and I got so many burn scars. It was crazy. It is crazy,” she said. “I don’t know if it was worth it, $12 [per hour] for burning my hand every single day.”

For Colakoglu, in addition to the tangible goals of raising wages and providing sick and mental health pay, the union more broadly aims to empower student workers. 

“Unions are not organized to merely affect incremental change in working conditions, but they are organized towards a world in which workers are no longer separated from the fruits of their labor — a world in which workers have a say, and even the sole say over their working conditions, and a world in which no one who works two or three jobs a week, and is still struggling to make ends meet,” Colakoglu said

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that the College declines to comment on “specific aspects of negotiations between Dartmouth and the SWCD.” 

“Dartmouth and the SWCD have met several times since the SWCD was certified as the student dining workers’ representative, both via Zoom and in person,” Lawrence wrote. “Dartmouth is meeting regularly with the SWCD this term in an effort to reach a contract as soon as possible. Negotiations have taken place with a positive spirit of cooperation and understanding. Dartmouth looks forward to reaching a signed agreement.”