"We're UUWS and We're #FedUp": A Statement from Student Workers

*Edit: In a statement released on September 11th on its Facebook page, UUWS decided to end its no host without pay pledge to avoid "hurting low-income prospective students who [hosts] would be hosting at DiscoSwat." 

On June 27, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to public sector unions across the country. Two months later, on August 9, Dean of Admissions Jim Bock emailed campus, telling undergraduate workers that they would no longer be compensated for hosting prospective students. Both actions are emblematic of a nation-wide, and now, campus-wide, effort to attack our labor rights. Drawing on this nation’s history of worker violations, Swarthmore College has been complicit in underpaying and mistreating undergraduate workers for far too long. We face skyrocketing tuition costs, insurmountable student debt, and stagnant wages—forcing us to navigate Swarthmore College as both its students and its workers. We know that Swarthmore College can afford to pay us what we deserve and treat us with respect, yet time after time, the college has deliberately chosen not to do so.

We are United Undergraduate Workers of Swarthmore (UUWS), and we want to win the pay and treatment that we deserve. By building a union, we are building the power to represent ourselves.  Together, we can fight and win wage increases and an independent body to review workplace grievances. With a union, all undergraduate workers will be protected from labor exploitation and will be able to assert their right to be paid and treated fairly.

Beginning September 10, we launch our unionization drive, to build a democratic union for all undergraduate workers at Swarthmore. As President Trump ramps up his attack on organized labor, the country is watching. Will Swarthmore continue to underpay and disempower its undergraduate workers, or live up to the progressive tradition it claims?

Until then, we will are telling Jim Bock and all of Swarthmore College’s bosses loud and clear: We will not work as hosts without compensation! We Won’t Work for Free! Pledge not to work for free, as an unpaid host, until Jim Bock reinstates compensation.

What exactly would an undergraduate workers' union do for campus?

We are not just students, but workers as well, and as workers we are entitled to labor rights protecting us from mistreatment or exploitation. A student union, however, is needed for this protection, which would extend to all students and would hold the college administration accountable for its actions as our employer. With tuition fees increasing and student debt mounting, we need to be compensated rightly for our work; that requires collective action in the form of a student union. The union would not only ensure that we are heard, but it would also mean a formalized grievance process, constant and open negotiation, and transparent employment policies and expectations, as well as higher wages for all undergraduate campus workers.

Will this union include career workers at Swarthmore?

We are building a union of undergraduate workers. We know that people in power seek to divide us, and we do not support any attempts to pit undergraduate workers against career workers—our experiences at this college are unique, but connected. However, we know that a union specific to undergraduate workers is strategically best suited to meet our needs.

Career workers at Swarthmore need  fair wages, childcare, and organizers who understand the complexity of their  industry. They deserve robust legal representation and a strong strike fund. It seems unlikely that a combined undergraduate workers and career worker union — rather than a national affiliate, such as UNITE HERE or SEIU, with strong legal teams, organizers who know the industry, and strike funds—would best suit career worker’s specific needs.

A union of undergraduate workers is designed to meet different needs. However, this does not preclude other forms of labor solidarity; UGSDW at Grinnell College is wonderful example of this.

Building the labor movement is not a zero-sum game; our wins do not hurt our friends in the career staff. To the contrary, after years of divisive, disheartening administrative rhetoric, this campaign can provide a concrete example that unions win—and unionization works! We wholeheartedly support campus workers. And we continue to strengthen our relationships with them, as they decide upon their next steps.

How does this all work? Do you have demands?

As democratic organizations, unions represent the interests of their members. Right now, we’re mad as hell about rising tuition, stagnant wages, punitive and illegal workplace practices, and a hostile administration. Once officially authorized, all members will vote on their bargaining unit, and on what will be fought for in the first contract. But first, we need to build the union--and that means getting authorized. That’s our goal for the first phase of the campaign -- to build power, sign our co-workers up, and authorize the union!

Why can’t we just protest to get our $10 back with admissions?

The administration’s decision to stop paying hosts is representative of a much larger problem that requires a more permanent and thorough solution than simply demanding that hosts be paid again. The school has shown a pattern of not addressing students’ labor concerns and underpaying its workers, all despite its near 2 billion dollar endowment. Swarthmore College has one of the largest endowment per student ratios in the country. If we want to truly hold the administration accountable and change the worker-college relationship to better benefit the worker, we must demand a student union. While we wish that Swarthmore Admissions repay its hosts, we also want to create a better workplace environment that helps and protects all workers, now and in the future.  

Won’t the demands of a union put our financial aid at risk and increase tuition for everyone?

With an endowment of nearly $2 billion, Swarthmore College can afford to pay its workers fairly without hurting students’ financial aid or tuition costs. The threat to increase tuition or to limit financial aid is simply that--an empty threat from an administration that wants to divide students, pit us against one another, and stifle our collective voices. Not only does this threat not service first-gen or low-income students that rely on financial aid and fair wages (and who the college claims to want to help) but it also prioritizes top faculty and their astronomically high wages over all students.  

How is this different than a Fight for $15 campaign?

Swarthmore College has a rich history of labor activism. Unions provide the infrastructure to outlast campaigns. Moreover, our concerns extend beyond unfair wages. We need a permanent, non-administrative institution that represents workers and shapes worker-college dialogue across various issues. From fighting for fair job training to enforcing ADA regulations, a union provides an authorized and legal structure—rather than a campaign—to address multiple labor issues affecting Swarthmore student workers.  

In conclusion, United Undergraduate Workers of Swarthmore (UUWS) rejects Jim Bock’s decision to stop paying hosts at Swarthmore, and we refuse to work for free. But we know that this is part of a bigger problem: skyrocketing tuition costs, insurmountable student debt, workplace mistreatment, and stagnant wages. As President Trump ramps up his attack on organized labor and Jim Bock takes away our pay, we are building a union of Undergraduate Workers to win the pay and treatment we deserve. After all, it’s #OurWork. And together, it’ll be #OurUnion.

Learn more about UUWS and get involved in their campaign here. Check back with Voices on Monday for a news story including testimonies from student workers and reactions to the College's decision to stop paying student overnight hosts.