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Berea College students file to organize labor union for undergraduate workers

Tyler Rocquemore ’22

Berea College students are organizing to form a labor union as the United Student Workers of Berea-CWA, according to a filing submitted to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The school requires students to work on campus as part of its curriculum as a work college. More than 1,300 student employees would be represented.

“Our College was built through the labor of the student workers before us and our labor continues to sustain and grow our institution,” a mission statement on the organization’s website says. “From erecting the buildings on campus to working in all 110 departments, student workers have ensured Berea College’s stability and success since 1855.”

The United Student Workers of Berea say they are organizing for a multitude of reasons. According to their website, that includes:

  • A formal grievance system to resolve workplace issues in a timely manner with union representation.
  • Wages that enable all students to afford basic necessities and have financial security post-graduation.
  • Negotiable job contracts with clear guidelines, expectations, and agreed-upon hours and scheduling.
  • Training programs, specific to each labor position, that cover all information necessary to perform our jobs as well as adequate resources to ensure safe working conditions in every workplace.
  • Accommodations for students with differences in ability that support their growth and success in the workplace.
  • Enforcement of the College’s policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
  • Full-time employee staffing that meets the needs of each department and enables labor supervisors to be consistent, clear, and intentional with student workers.
  • Opportunities for leadership and skill development in every workplace so that student workers’ positions contribute to their professional growth.

The group is organizing with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and would need federal approval to officially unionize.

A statement from Berea College released Monday says leadership respects the legal process and is waiting for further communication.

“At this point, this is a communication solely between the CWA and the NLRB and an effort to begin a process guided by federal rules,” the statement reads.

The statement also says Berea College values its students and provides them “unparalleled support,” including full tuition scholarships and the maximum allowable financial aid packages.

The school has since filed a motion to postpone the board hearing indefinitely, according to the filing’s docket.

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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