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Supporters of Berea College student workers’ union organize rally on campus

Pro-union stduents at Berea College organized a rally in front of Fairchild Hall on campus Thursday.
Shepherd Snyder
Pro-union stduents at Berea College organized a rally in front of Fairchild Hall on campus Thursday.

Berea College students and faculty in support of an undergraduate labor union organized a rally promoting their cause on campus Thursday afternoon.

The United Student Workers of Berea say they’re organizing for a number of causes, including fair wages, negotiable job contracts and a formal grievance system.

Berea is a Work College that requires students to work on campus as part of their curriculum. More than 1,300 student employees would be represented.

Andi Mellon is one of the student organizers who was at the rally. They say a union is the best way to get their voices heard.

“We would really like to have a seat at the table with a legally binding contract,” Mellon said. “You can break a commitment but you can't break a contract. So we really think this is the best way for us to make change on campus.”

Devin Carpenter, another Berea student and one of the speakers at the rally, became a union supporter after an incident at the Berea College Farm almost injured him, and is advocating for better workplace training.

“I don't think that I should have to feel in danger every time I step foot into the workplace,” Carpenter said. “It’s something that I have to do, it'd be different if it was a job back home and I could just quit anytime I want.”

A statement from Berea College addressing the rally says school leadership believes it can’t be unionized.

“We believe that a Work College cannot be unionized, as our students are students receiving financial aid, and not employees receiving taxable wages,” the statement reads. “As always, we are focused on listening to our students and working together to improve their experience.”

Another statement sent to WEKU also says unionization would put the college’s ability to make sure every student graduates debt free at risk.

Last month, Berea College moved to postpone a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board indefinitely, and has also hired law firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs to represent them, according to filings on the case’s docket.

A hearing with the National Labor Relations Board is currently scheduled for April 17.

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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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