On Apr. 7, 2023, the University of Oregon (UO) Student Workers Union gathered at Erb Memorial Union and submitted signed union cards in hopes of gaining union status. While their submission has not yet been certified, they had over 2,000 student workers sign cards in the 180 days allotted.
The fight for student worker unionization has been prevalent in schools across the country. In a podcast by National Public Broadcast, Grinnell College, Dartmouth College, and Kenyon College are all mentioned as schools where student workers have been organizing to gain unionization. If UO Student Workers are able to unionize, they will be the largest undergraduate student union.
So what are the UO Student Workers asking for, specifically? Kendall McKone, a junior at UO and organizer with UO Student Workers, joined the cause in early 2022. “Some of the main asks of our union are higher wages and free shift meals for dining workers.” According to McKone, even students who work in the dining hall do not receive free meals, even though pounds of food are thrown away daily. “So many student workers on campus are severely underpaid and suffering financially because of it.” They continue, “free shift meals would decrease both the number of workers who are hungry, and the amount of food wasted by the university each and every day.”
In February this year, UO student worker Will Garrahan was fired from his job in the dining hall. His supervisors claim that he was fired because he ate food from the cafeteria. According to Garrahan, he did eat food from the kitchen at the end of the shift, right before it was to be thrown away, which many agree is a common practice for dining-hall workers. In an Oregonian article from Feb. 18, Garrahan alleged that the firing was a form of union-busting, which is a term used to describe attempts by administration to stifle unionization-efforts. Students and staff staged a walkout after this event.
One of the ways UO Student Workers have gotten the word out and garnered support has been through the use of social media. @uostudentworkers on Instagram has been providing information about union efforts and events such as union-card signing since mid-January this year. Through this outreach, many students and community members have joined the fight for unionization. “In organizing a union, you in turn build a community that wouldn’t have otherwise come together. We’ve built connections with other local unions and provided a space for solidarity to thrive,” says McKone.
In an Instagram post titled “Why Unionize?” by @uostudentworkers from October 2022, the account lists reasons for unionization, their main one being: “While we are defenseless against exploitation and mistreatment as isolated individuals, we have significant leverage if we act collectively.” McKone echoes this statement, saying that “with a union, we can fight for the rights of all eligible student workers. We intend to make sure student workers on campus are actually heard and listened to.”
UO Student Workers say that unionization is crucial to protect the rights and safety of workers. Since submitting the 2,000 signed cards, the student organizers at UO have been waiting for certification. “We are very optimistic in regards to certification, but there’s no real way of knowing [if we will get certification]. However, if we don’t win then, we do have the option to go to election,” says McKone. “Once certified, UO Student Workers would likely be the largest undergraduate student union in the entire country, and we would not have gotten this far if it wasn’t for all of our organizers, and all of the support we received from other various unions.”
As of May 15, 2023, the UO Student Workers Union has yet to be certified.