The Bon Appétit student workers are facing a challenge this semester. They are considering unionizing amidst the troubles that the company is experiencing here at Lewis & Clark. Because Fields Dining Room (the Bon) is currently understaffed, Bon employees and student workers need to put in more effort in order to keep everything running smoothly. However, the student workers are still getting paid minimum wage, the same amount as before.
History has shown that students at private institutions have a right to unionize. In 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Columbia University graduate students who wanted to unionize. This set a precedent that students of private institutions may seek the same treatment as their coworkers who are full-time employees.
LC’s student workers also have a great example in their fellow coworkers. The Bon’s full-time employees reached a historic deal with the company at the beginning of the year when they negotiated their wages, health care benefits and free parking permits on campus. If student workers unionize, they will be able to negotiate their wages together with full-time employees and demand adequate compensation for their work.
Numerous student employees declined to be interviewed for fear of being fired, but one came forward under the condition of anonymity.
“Bon Appétit isn’t legally bound to pay us more than minimum wage,” the student worker said. “At the moment, the student workers are earning $12.50 per hour (minimum wage) and the student leads are earning $12.75 per hour. It is actually the school that pays the company for our (student workers’)wages.”
Students who are in a leadership position in the dining hall and are expected to show higher performance only earn an additional $0.25, which amounts to one dollar more per shift than their fellow student coworkers. This means that it is the college, not Bon Appétit, that is responsible for setting student wages. Student employees would be incentivized to keep improving at their jobs if LC would recognize that compensating them adequately for their work should be a norm, not an exception.
If the student workers unionize, they will be able to negotiate fair compensation not only for themselves but also for the future generations of student workers at LC. Taking into account that the college relies heavily on students as a secure source of workers, LC should take them seriously as employees. It is important to keep in mind that student workers also have other responsibilities — many of them are athletes, members of student government or clubs. If LC is expecting its student workers to strive to be better at their jobs and take on more responsibilities as they are given leadership positions, it should also pay them accordingly.
Unionization of the Bon Appétit student workers would mean that they would have more security and bargaining power in negotiating for higher wages. It might also prompt other LC student workers to mobilize as there might be cases similar to the one at the catering company. Not only will they be able to negotiate for higher wages, but they would also have an opportunity to form a security network that would protect them from workplace harassment and discrimination.