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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Looking back at recent unionization efforts at the College

GOLD-UE, the SWC and the men’s basketball team unions have been progressing at different paces in the past few months.

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This article is featured in the 2024 Green Key special issue.

Contract negotiations between the College and two of its main workers’ unions have progressed differently in recent months, according to members of the unions.

The Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-United Electrical Workers — the College’s graduate workers’ union — has been engaged in contract negotiations with the College since last August, according to the GOLD-UE bargaining tracker, an online negotiations timeline maintained by the union. 

As of May 15, the tracker also states that tentative agreements have been reached on 18 of the union’s 28 key issues, including non-discrimination protections, international employee rights and an inclusive work environment. 

GOLD-UE organizer Rendi Rogers GR said the core of the union’s current demands include raising graduate student wages to account for increased local cost of living, as well as healthcare provisions such as dental coverage and childcare subsidies. According to Rogers, the union has “moved down” paid family and medical leave on its list of demands, instead prioritizing short-term disability provisions that “narrow the scope” of the demands. The union has also lowered its wages demand from $55,000 annually to $53,000 annually, Rogers said. 

“Our cost-of-living demand isn’t reflected in other contracts, but we feel really strongly to continue fighting for it,” Rogers said. “But other things like full dental coverage, healthcare coverage and childcare have been won [at other institutions].” 

In response to the “outstanding” issues, GOLD-UE authorized a strike during the week of April 15, which is permitted when union members are “at the understanding” that Dartmouth “is not willing” to meet demands, Rogers said. 

During a strike, participating graduate students who work as instructors and teaching assistants stop their teaching work, Rogers explained. 

“We know our working conditions are your learning conditions,” she said. “We can’t provide a good education if we can’t afford food and rent.”

GOLD-UE began striking on May 1, which is celebrated as International Workers’ Day in commemoration of the first day of the 1886 Haymarket Square riot in Chicago. Rogers said there was “some positive movement” from the administration’s bargainers at the bargaining meeting on May 3. 

“We were really hopeful right off the bat that we would be making progress and that this strike would end really quickly,” she said. “In response to their movement, we also moved a lot in their direction, especially on compensation and retirement.”

However, Rogers said bargaining became “stuck” at the following meeting on May 8 because “[the administration] didn’t really come to the table with any new offers.” According to the Office of the Provost’s website, as of the meeting on May 8, the administration has offered $150,000 for the childcare fund —  a bulk sum paid by the College to GOLD-UE which the union would use to reimburse members for childcare costs. Rogers said that this was a recent increase from their previous offer of $125,000. In response, GOLD-UE “reasserted” their position on dependent care support and short-term disability leave, which is currently unpaid, she added. The union is currently pushing for the childcare fund to be increased to $250,000.

“[$250,000] would not even completely reimburse child care for the parents in our unit right now, but it's at least enough to help out and make it affordable,” she explained. 

Rogers added that faculty and staff at Dartmouth have had a “mixed” response to the GOLD-UE strike, which she attributed to “misleading” communication by the College administration. Since the strike began, the administration has “told the faculty that they aren’t allowed to” ask graduate student workers about “striking activities,” she explained. At the same time, faculty members have received attestation forms “to tell the administration whether or not their graduate workers are on strike” in order to “withhold [the graduate workers’] pay.” 

“The administration is putting faculty in this really unfair position where they're saying they're legally not allowed to ask about our strike activity, but also being asked to report on our strike activity,” she said. 

GOLD-UE is “trying to do outreach” to faculty members, but there is “still … a lot of confusion,” Rogers added. The union has also filed a grievance about unfair labor practices “based on those instructions [from the College]” because they believe the College is engaging in “illegal retaliation” under the National Labor Relations Act. 

In a statement to The Dartmouth, College spokesperson Jana Barnello wrote that attestation forms are “necessary for [the College] to ensure that [it complies] with federal grant reporting requirements and whether students are working.”

According to Rogers, GOLD-UE has also tried to “address some faculty concerns” that increased wages for graduate students would burden lab and departmental budgets. The union has tried assuaging those concerns through a proposed article for the cost to be taken out of the operational budget of the College. 

“This demand has also been rejected by the College multiple times at this point, but we are keeping that on the table because we want to communicate to faculty that we’re not striking because of a bad relationship with faculty — we’re striking against the College as an institution,” Rogers said. 

Undergraduate students who work directly with graduate teaching assistants have expressed that the GOLD-UE strike has negatively impacted their learning.

A member of the Class of 2027, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, said he feels like he has “fallen behind” in his computer science class.

Rogers said “the union’s position” is that the administration “has the opportunity to end the strike at any time.”

“We [the graduate student workers] would like to be able to offer office hours again, but ultimately, we can’t afford to take care of our children or afford rent,” she said. “We think it’s pretty egregious that [the College administration is] sacrificing … undergraduate education along with our working conditions just because they don't want to give us a fair contract.”

Barnello also wrote that the College is “ensuring the continuity of undergraduate education through extensive measures [the College has] put in place to support undergraduate student education as long as any strike continues.”

Other campus unions — including the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth, which represents Dartmouth Dining Services student workers, and the Dartmouth College Library Workers Union — have shown “solidarity” with GOLD-UE throughout the bargaining process, Rogers said. 

The SWCD received recognition after a unanimous vote by members in April 2022. In addition to dining workers, the union includes the Dartmouth Undergraduate Advisors union, which is in the process of unionizing, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. 

SWCD member Hosaena Tilahun ’25 said the College refused to voluntarily recognize the UGA union. Barnello said the College refused because “a secret ballot election administered by the NLRB promotes a fair and democratic election and enables all voices to be represented.”

In response to the College’s refusal, approximately 65% of UGAs signed union cards with the National Labor Relations Board in April, triggering an election which is scheduled for mid-May, Tilahun said. 

The DUA’s primary demand is improving the mandatory UGA training process, which can last two to three weeks and is unpaid, according to Tilahun.

“They have this really weird training day where we have undergraduate students act out scenarios where they’re victims of sexual assault,” she said. “That just didn’t feel right … these are untrained professionals acting things out.”

Tilahun added that the SWCD envisions itself as a union that eventually “represents every student worker” at the College.

“We’re trying to complete this vision of a wall-to-wall union where, one day, every … undergraduate student that works on this campus has a stake in making our campus more democratic and more run by students,” she said. 

As negotiations continue, GOLD-UE and SWCD often work together in their capacities as labor unions.

When GOLD-UE announced on May 1 that they would strike until “the Dartmouth administration accepts their [GOLD-UE’s] demands,” the SWCD co-signed their announcement, according to a joint statement posted by SWCD and GOLD-UE on Instagram.

In solidarity with GOLD-UE, student dining workers who are members of SWCD also did not work on May 1 to “honor GOLD’s picket,” according to an Instagram post by SWCD. Tilahun said that the refusal to work was not a collaborated strike. 

SWCD also participated in the Labor for Liberation rally on May 1 — the same day GOLD-UE began their strike. Other organizations involved included Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, Upper Valley Democratic Socialists of America, Upper Valley for Palestine and the Upper Valley Tenant Union, according to an Instagram post by Upper Valley for Palestine. 

Tilahun said many of the UGA union organizers are guided by the belief that they are organizing “not for [the union members] as individuals, but everyone on campus.” She added that the rise of unionization efforts on campus is part of an “interconnected struggle” both at the College and on university campuses across the country.

“The potential for student organizing on college campuses [is] kind of limitless when we think about it as what we can all gain and benefit from coming together and building legitimate student power,” she said.

The men’s basketball team is also in the process of unionizing under the Service Employees International Union, Local 560. 

In March, the team voted 13-2 in favor of unionization but has since faced challenges from the College and the Ivy League. According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, the College declined a request to bargain with the union in March, citing “Dartmouth’s decades-long commitment to athletics as an extension of our academic mission,” according to College spokesperson Jana Barnello.  

The men’s basketball team’s efforts to unionize have sparked controversy and garnered national attention. 

Three alumni who played for the team during their time at the College wrote in a letter to the editor that they “urge the Board of Trustees to pursue all available legal remedies to curb the unionization of sports” at the College. They also wrote that they believed they were “privileged” to have had the opportunity to play for the College “while fulfilling our academic requirements and graduating from one of the top colleges in the country.” 

In April, the Ivy League filed an amicus brief with the National Labor Relations Board in which it argued that the union is “directly at odds” with the values of the Ivy League conference, which prioritizes students’ academic experiences over their athletic ability.

Members of the men’s basketball team did not respond to multiple requests for comment by time of publication.