Arnie Alpert is a retired activist, organizer, and community educator long involved in movements for social and economic justice. Arnie writes an occasional column Active with the Activists for InDepthNH.org.
By Arnie Alpert, Active with the Activists
HANOVER – Thirteen months after student dining hall workers at Dartmouth College formed a union to win improvements in pay and working conditions, the Student Workers Collective at Dartmouth (SWCD) has won an agreement with the college that includes a $21 an hour base wage.
The union, most of whose members are international students, undocumented students, and first-generation college students from working class families, voted last week to authorize a strike if Dartmouth would not agree to their wage demand. On the eve of the likely strike, SWCD announced the tentative agreement following what they called an “emergency meeting” with college negotiators.
SWCD had its birth in the fall of 2021, when student workers organized a union because college officials were ignoring their concerns about low pay and disrespectful treatment. When the college refused to recognize the union, the SWCD won unanimous support in an NLRB-supervised election.
Speaking at a campus rally last Nov. 3, Alejo Rinon said he works at a college café “because I have to.”
“I’m on financial aid. And most of what I earn goes towards paying for my college and making sure that I can graduate with as little debt as possible,” he said. Higher pay for him would be “monumental,” he added, a chance to have a social life and get some sleep.
Solange Acosta, another student who spoke at the rally, said, “what I’m asking for, what we we’re all asking for here, is a chance to be a student first and a worker second.”
In a statement released Saturday, the union said, “We now have a tentative agreement on the full package proposal with the College,” including a $21/hour base wage, annual wage increases tied to the cost of college, and mental health and sick pay. Students working as area managers in the dining facilities covered by the contract would be included in the bargaining unit, a demand the college had previously been reluctant to accept.
Diana Lawrence, Dartmouth’s Associate Vice President for Communications, said the college was pleased to have reached an agreement. “Dartmouth feels that this was a fair process, and we look forward to continuing our positive relationship with the SWCD,” she said in an email to InDepthNH.org.
Union members will vote this week whether to ratify the agreement. If a majority of members follow the advice of the Organizing Committee and vote “yes,” the contract would go into effect by the spring term, according to the SWCD statement.
“We thank Dartmouth College for their flexibility and willingness to listen to its student workers,” the union said. They also acknowledged the support of a number of on- and off-campus groups, including SEIU Local 560, which represents other Dartmouth workers, and the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth (GOLD), a new union of graduate students.
“We will also take this opportunity to review pay scales across the institution to determine if additional changes are necessary,” Lawrence said in the college’s statement. “We look forward to announcing the results of that review within the coming weeks.”
That could be relevant news for GOLD. In a tweet to the SWCD on Saturday, GOLD commented, “CONGRATS ON THIS HARD-FOUGHT WIN! y’all deserve every penny and more.” To that, the SWCD replied, “THANK YOU NOW ITS YOUR TURN. SIDE BY SIDE.”