More Than Hosting: We’re Ready to Build Our Union

As a student on financial aid, and someone who took out a lot of expensive student loans, 10/hr is not enough to support myself. I shouldn’t be working 3 different jobs just to barely get by. I can’t afford to face years of crushing student debt after college.

  • Grace Dumdaw ‘21

Within hours of publicly launching UUWS, countless student workers stepped forward to share their stories of unfair pay and mistreatment working on Swarthmore’s campus. We’ve shared many of these on our Facebook page over the past week, under the hashtag #MyWorkMyStory #OurUnionOurFight: including stories of unfair and unreasonably late pay, ADA violations, and the near-failure to receive an entire semester’s worth of pay because of a worker’s trans identity. These experiences reveal the extent to which Swarthmore is underpaying, mistreating, and ignoring student worker needs, especially the needs of marginalized, low-income, and financially-aided workers.

We believe these stories are a breathing testimony to the moral imperative of building UUWS, especially in this political moment. As undergraduate workers ourselves, we have seen this before and have been planning this movement to fight back since late May. But now, students are clearly fed up. And the campaign’s growing support reflects exactly that. Nearly 100 students have pledged not to work for free, and over 275 more have chosen to follow UUWS on our Facebook—and that’s just within ten days of the campaign’s launch, notwithstanding that most Swarthmore students currently are off campus.

The campus has spoken. These stories demonstrate that hosting is just one of many unjust actions taken by the college against student workers. And we’re ready to unite. That’s why, on September 8th, we’re having a Mass Training and First Vote, to begin building UUWS and vote to commit to a plan of action.

How do we win?

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Why A Union?

A union is flexible. Unfair pay is an issue across all jobs on campus—and placing a particular burden on low-income students. Beyond unfair pay, however, undergraduate workers face many different issues specific to their workplaces, from unjust firing practices and unpaid training to uncounted hours. Uniting ourselves allows us to respond to these issues, including fair pay for all student work, not just the recent host-for-free policy change. An organized group of undergraduate workers can respond to workers’ needs in ways that no individual worker can alone.

A union is powerful. Individual students can be pushed around by their bosses. Although this isn’t something we’ve all experienced, on campus, individual workers are at the mercy of their employer, often experiencing untimely pay, violations of ADA accommodations, or unfair wages. United, we can negotiate and enforce a contract that we want, not what Swarthmore hands us. Grinnell’s Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, the first undergraduate workers union in the US, exemplifies the need to unite to voice our grievances and hold Swarthmore accountable, so that Swarthmore College lives up to its progressive heritage. And when we leave Swarthmore College, we leave behind a union that sustains student power.    

#OurWorkOurUnion

Fundamentally, UUWS doesn’t ‘represent’ undergraduate workers—we are workers. We are a democratic union that will continually build accountability and feedback as we incorporate new members. Right now, we are a team of leaders from different class years and job positions excited to launch this movement. We intend to build our team throughout campus in the coming weeks, beginning with our Mass Training on September 8. This Mass Training, along with the union as a whole, is open to anyone and everyone, especially those who feel like they have a personal stake in demanding just pay and treatment.

It’s our work—so we’re building our union. Our Mass Training and First Vote is the next step to building UUWS together.