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The Dartmouth
May 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

SWCD holding vote to strike for $21 base wage for student dining workers

The union is advocating for a raise from base hourly wage of $15 to $21, a proposal that the College refused in a bargaining session last month.

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After being involved in negotiations with the College since last May, the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth is undergoing a strike authorization vote, according to SWCD vice chair Sheen Kim ’23. After the College refused SWCD’s latest proposal at the Jan. 24 bargaining session, the group put the decision to strike to a vote on Tuesday and is still voting.

“A strike is highly likely to occur in the near future if the school does not accept the package that we provided them in our last bargaining session,” Kim said.

The SWCD’s current proposition outlines a $21 per hour base wage and new mental health and sick pay policies, according to Kim. 

The College’s current counter proposal outlines a base pay of $18.50 for cafe workers and $17.50 for snack bar and Collis Market workers, according to a Jan. 31 statement from SWCD. Wages will not increase until an agreement is reached and a new contract is ratified, according to grievance officer and SWCD bargaining committee member Ian Scott ’24.

Currently, student workers in the higher pay bracket — which includes Novack Café, the Class of 1953 Commons, Courtyard Café, Ramekin and other café locations — earn $15 per hour base pay and $3 per hour in meal plan credit, according to an email from associate vice president of business and hospitality David Newlove. Snack bar and market workers earn $13 per hour base pay with $2 in meal plan credit per hour. For both pay brackets, hourly wages increase by 50 cents after the first term of employment and by 25 cents in subsequent terms, Newlove added.

Scott and Kim referenced recent union efforts at Northeastern University — where dining hall workers will see an increase to $30 per hour wages — and Columbia University, which ratified its first contract with the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW and increased wages from $15 to $21 per hour. 

“It would not be a strike that comes out of nowhere, and our frustration [doesn’t come] out of nowhere,” Kim said. “It is the fact that we’ve been telling you this for months and months. And you’re seeing what’s going on around campuses — this is not the fight that you want to fight.”

Attorney Joseph McConnell, whose firm represents the College  declined to comment on specific aspects of the negotiations with the SWCD. 

“Dartmouth is meeting regularly with the SWCD this term in an effort to reach a contract as soon as possible,” McConnell wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth. “Negotiations have taken place with a positive spirit of cooperation and understanding and we look forward to reaching a signed agreement.” 

In a Feb. 6 campus-wide email, Dartmouth Student Government announced that the DSG senate had unanimously voted to endorse the call for $21 per hour wages. According to student body president David Millman ’23, a supermajority of DSG voted to approve a resolution outlining the reasons for its support.

“We stand behind student workers,” Millman said. “The nature of the situation is that a lot of students do have to work and some students don’t have to work, and so we want to move any way that we can to help move to a more equitable and just campus. That’s why we’ve been very intentional to support and not dictate what these communities want. It’s really important to not try to speak for them, but amplify their message.”

Scott, who works in ’53 Commons, said that if wages were increased to $21, he could work 10 hours a week instead of his current schedule of about 15 hours per week and make approximately the same amount.

“There’s never really a time where I get to feel like I am on top of everything,” Scott said. “I’m always very disoriented, always feeling like I’m treading water in a lot of ways. That extra five hours a week is everything. That allows me to put more time into classes, more time into my personal life, more time into my spiritual life.”

Last winter, Scott worked washing dishes at ’53 Commons. He said that after dining closed at 8:30 p.m., he would typically work until 11 p.m., and some of his coworkers stayed later to finish cleaning.

“You’re rushing the trays and trying to get all these plates clean and off the carousel because if they’re not getting them off the carousel fast enough it’s going to back up out there and people aren’t going to have a place to put their dirty plates,” Scott said. “So that whole system comes to rest on the people that are in the dish room.”

Scott said working evening shifts at ’53 Commons occupied his Saturday and Sunday nights for the entirety of winter term last year. 

“By the end of the night my clothes were soaking wet and then I’d go out into the night air and by the time I get back to my dorm my clothes are frozen and I’m dog tired from standing, working, running around for the last five, six hours,” Scott said. “It’s just not fun — I wasn’t hanging out with friends, I wasn’t going out to parties, anything like that because I had to make money.”

Sabik Jawad ’26 is a member of the SWCD who works at Novack Café and said that SWCD’s proposed increase for student workers “means way more” for student workers than it does for the College. 

“SWCD showed the numbers, it costs $90,000 a year for Dartmouth to increase to $21,” Jawad said. “And that means nothing to Dartmouth compared to its overall operating budget. But it means literally everything to student workers.” 

According to the SWCD’s statement, the difference between $18.50 and $21 per hour would amount to a cost of “about $89,000 per year, representing a 0.02% increase in the amount Dartmouth already spends on wages.”

Kim also said that the College is hiring a human resources consultant for labor relations with an annual salary close to that difference. According to the job posting, the hiring salary ranges from $78,900 to $96,000. 

“The fact is, these universities have been so heavily financialized where money is funneled into   paying endless amounts of bureaucratic managers, investing in hedge funds, investing millions of dollars into real estate,” Kim said. “[The College is] forgetting that it is and must be the students and the folks who are actually doing the labor of academia, of service, of research, that actually gives Dartmouth its standing.”

Sheen Kim is an opinion writer for The Dartmouth.