December 14, 2018
Students at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, are asking the National Labor Relations Board to end their petition to expand a union of dining workers to the entire student workforce. The union would have been the country’s first campuswide student union at a private college.
The students filed the withdrawal on Dec. 13 “in recognition of the national consequences of our fight,” a Dec. 14 statement from the union said. An NLRB regional director will now have to approve the withdrawal request, likely next week.
The college told the union that it would oppose a withdrawal, according to the union’s statement. But a spokeswoman for the college denied that and said it wouldn’t stand in the way of a withdrawal.
“We believe the actions we took to preserve our educational mission were in the best interests of the Grinnell College community,” Grinnell College spokeswoman Debra Lukehart wrote in a statement to Bloomberg Law. “We welcome the union’s request to withdraw its petition and we have not, and will not, oppose the withdraw request.”
The appeal marks a setback for the student organizers but will deprive the Republican-controlled NLRB a chance to undo the precedent allowing students to organize.
A number of other schools—including Boston College, Reed College, and Yale—also withdrew NLRB petitions in the past year to prevent a rollback of student organizing rights.
The students faced an appeal of the election by the college that would have allowed the board to revisit the question of whether student aides are employees.
The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers, an independent and student-run union, was behind the representation petition. The organization’s leadership decided to withdrawal its expansion bid when the legal situation became “more complicated,” organizer Cory McCartan told Bloomberg Law.
The Iowa school brought on board New York-based Proskauer Rose LLP in the week before the Nov. 27 election. The firm has represented a number of other schools fighting unionization attempts, including Columbia, Yale, and the University of Chicago.
Proskauer lawyers attempted to have the vote postponed, but their motion wasn’t ruled on before the election.
The day after the NLRB certified the election results at Grinnell, lawyers for the college filed a lengthy request for review challenging the decision that allowed the vote to proceed.
The school asserted that student workers weren’t employees under the National Labor Relations Act because its relationship is “decidedly educational—not economic.”
Lawyers for the school also said that there would be “adverse effects of unionization on campus life.”
The union said that it continues to urge Grinnell administrators to negotiate a framework for moving forward despite the official withdrawal request. Other schools, such as Georgetown University and Brown University, entered agreements to pursue unionization outside the NLRB.
“UGSDW will not flag in its fight for the rights of student workers, at Grinnell and across the nation, to organize and bargain collectively,” the union said in its statement.