Dartmouth College student workers vote to unionize, petition college for recognition

  • From left, Dartmouth Dining Services student workers and organizers of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth Nadine Formiga, Reyna Santoyo, Ian Scott and Kaya Colakoglu look through a petition notifying the college of their intent to unionize accompanied by over 1,000 signatures of students and community supporters before delivering it to President Philip Hanlon’s office at Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, NH., on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott said, “it’s important to recognize the value of our labor and our power to organize.” (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth Dining Services student workers and supporters leave President Philip Hanlon’s office after delivering a petition notifying the college of their intent to form the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth in Hanover, NH., on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Dartmouth Dining Services student workers and members of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth gather to deliver a petition notifying the college of their intent to unionize outside of President Philip Hanlon’s office at Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, NH., on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. The Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth is requesting that the college voluntarily recognize their union, give student workers sick pay for shifts missed due to COVID-19 isolation and communicate with the group on issues of safety and exposure. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2022 6:16:15 AM
Modified: 1/15/2022 2:24:42 PM

HANOVER — Last summer, Dartmouth College junior Reyna Santoyo started working for Dartmouth Dining Services, but it wasn’t until the fall term that she started to worry about the job raising her risk of contracting COVID-19.

The line at Novack Cafe in Baker-Berry Library grew increasingly longer. At times — but not always — the cafe used plexiglass barriers to separate workers and patrons. Some days when she came to work, Santoyo found students scanning their own dining cards. Other days she was given the cards to handle.

And then there were the masks.

“Obviously working with food and during the two-hour shift you see so many students and so many who don’t comply with their masks,” Santoyo said during a phone interview Thursday, shortly before she began a two-hour shift at a campus snack bar.

“It’s very stressful, and especially during COVID it feels like you’re not cared for at all by the college,” added Santoyo, a first-generation college student who earned $13 an hour this summer.

That has been one of the motivating factors behind what’s being called the “Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth.” Santoyo is among a group of students who want to become part of a national labor union to protect and increase their rights.

In a Jan. 5 letter to college officials, student organizers said they want to start being paid for shifts they miss due to COVID-related absences, said Alejandro Morales, a student dining manager in his second year at Dartmouth.

“At least the first year of it, Dartmouth did a good job of taking COVID very seriously,” Morales said in a phone interview.

But as time has gone on, the college has become more lax in its approach to the virus, he said.

“Our dining workers are more and more exposed,” he said. “It puts a lot of student workers; a lot of dining workers at risk.”

Staff shortages have also put more pressure on remaining workers, Morales added. “The college on top of having a housing crisis accepted 400 more students this year,” he said. “It was a lot more than we were prepared for.”

There’s precedent for the college paying students when they can’t work due to COVID-19, Morales said. Last year, students were paid when dining halls, snack bars and cafes were shut down for a brief period during a winter surge of coronavirus cases.

“Seeing there’s precedent, we’re asking Dartmouth to extend this now with a new policy,” Morales said. “We really think it’s the college’s job to make sure these students don’t have to face this financial stress.”

On Friday afternoon, roughly 65 student workers and their supporters — all wearing masks — staged a rally at Parkhurst Hall, where President Phil Hanlon and other top administrators have their offices.

They wanted to speak with Hanlon but were told he wasn’t on campus. They left a copy of their petition signaling their intent to unionize with a staffer at the president’s office.

Around 125 to 150 students work for Dartmouth Dining Services at various times of the year, college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence wrote in an email Friday. Many, but not all, of the jobs are work study positions, she said.

Lawrence didn’t respond to a request for a comment about the union drive. In Tuesday’s online edition of The Dartmouth, the college’s daily student newspaper, Lawrence was quoted as saying the college had “received the letter from the collective and (looks) forward to talking with them.”

Last term, Morales was working close to 20 hours a week. Many of the students are the first generation in their families to attend college and use the money from their part-time jobs to help pay living expenses, he said.

Student workers began talking about unionizing in the fall. After meeting with their nonstudent managers, workers received raises of $1 to $2 per hour, bringing their hourly rate to about $15. (Students’ pay differs, depending on which of Dartmouth’s 11 dining locations they work at.)

“We wanted to find a way to sort of be able to sit down with the college and list our demands on a level playing field,” Morales said.

After organizers went public with their unionization effort earlier this month, students started receiving so-called hazard pay, which at 1½ times their regular rate, brought them up to more than $20 an hour. Students were given no indication of how much longer they’ll see the additional money in their paychecks, Santoyo said.

“It’s just like a year too late almost,” she said.

A “supermajority of student workers” have signed union cards indicating that they want to join the union, stated the letter to college officials.

Students are asking the college to “recognize us voluntarily” without an election through the National Labor Relations Board.

The organizing effort is not connected to Local 560 of the Service Employees’ International Union, which represents Dartmouth’s dining service workers, custodians and assorted tradespeople.

However, Local 560 President Chris Peck, a college painter, has spoken with students about their union drive.

“We’re excited for the students,” Peck said. “They’ve been getting an unfair shake for a long time. It will be interesting to see how the college responds.”

In their letter, students asked for the college to respond by Monday.

The students who work in the dining halls “probably need the money more than anyone,” Peck said. “It’s not necessarily pocket money for them.”

One student Peck talked with said he used his earnings to pay for his plane ticket home at the end of the academic term.

In addition to Local 560, the Dartmouth chapter of the American Association of University Professors has voiced its support.

“Dartmouth’s endowment has grown dramatically during the past few years, even as the cost of living in the Upper Valley has skyrocketed,” the chapter’s leaders wrote in a statement. “Dartmouth can afford to invest in its student workers.”

“As faculty, we have a responsibility to nurture the development of our students. In that spirit, we call on Dartmouth to pay students a living wage, to enhance mental health care services for students, and to better protect student and non-student dining services workers from exposure to COVID.”

Photographer Alex Driehaus contributed to this report. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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