Grinnell College Workers Strike For Wages, Discrimination Protections

Student community advisors at Grinnell College hold up signs at the picket line during a strike rally Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (Photo by Amie Rivers for Iowa Starting Line)

Some student workers at Grinnell College are on strike as of Wednesday to raise wages and to create better on-the-job discrimination and harassment protections for all student workers.

The strike began Wednesday after Grinnell, a private college in Poweshiek County, refused to meet workers’ demands, according to students. It affects only community advisors at Grinnell, according to organizer Hannah Sweet.

Students rallied Wednesday afternoon on campus.


Community advisors at Grinnell College went on #strike today for better wages, nondiscrimination policies and more.

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Sweet said the strike would be “indefinite.”

Workers are demanding a campus base wage of $15 per hour, “fair compensation” for community advisors, and “a fair process to address discrimination and harassment on the job,” Sweet told Starting Line.

Grinnell College, however, said the contract isn’t up until June 30, and say workers’ current contract contains a “no strike clause.” Such clauses prevent workers from striking until their contract is up.

“As such, the College will file an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the NLRB,” or National Labor Relations Board, which oversees federal labor law, the college said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

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How it started

Grinnell College’s undergraduate student workers organized and won a union in May 2022, becoming the first private college in the US to unionize its undergraduate workers.

They organized under the existing Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW), which first organized for (you may have already guessed) the college’s student dining workers in 2016.

But winning a union was only the first step. Members have been working to secure a contract, a process that has taken more than seven months, said Sweet.

How it’s going

The union said in a Twitter thread Tuesday that the bargaining process had “dragged on.”

At issue for community advisors in particular was a “pay cut” wage of $13.25, no provisions for wage increases, and a lack of “enforceable non-discrimination or harassment process” or diversity proposals.

“Through this whole process, we have faced stalling, the College’s refusal to allow in-person observers at bargaining, regressive changes at the bargaining table, threats, and a complete refusal to engage with even the most basic subjects of negotiation,” organizers said.

In a statement, Grinnell College said a bargaining session had been scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m., and said any student worker “who feels that they are being pressured not to work, or otherwise bullied, harassed, or targeted in any way related to the strike” can report it to college officials.

“While the College respects the right to engage in lawful concerted activity, it is disappointing that UGSDW has chosen to call for an unlawful strike,” officials said.

In a statement replying to the college’s statement, UGSDW disagrees the strike is unlawful.

“CAs, and other non-dining student workers, are not currently covered by the College’s contract with the Union,” they wrote. “We are bargaining for a new contract that we have agreed will cover the entire unit—including both dining and non-dining student workers.”

UGSDW is also working to raise $5,000 for their strike fund to pay workers who would otherwise financially not be able to miss work. That strike fund is here.

This story was updated Tuesday afternoon to include a statement from Grinnell College and Wednesday morning to include a reply from UGSDW.

by Amie Rivers

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