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Berea College undergraduates call for election to form union

By: Andrew Lamparski
Posted at 10:13 PM, Apr 04, 2024

BEREA, Ky. (LEX 18) — Berea College students are calling for the formation of a student worker union on campus, hosting a rally on Thursday afternoon in hopes of garnering support from the administration.

The liberal arts school is known for its tuition-free, work-study platform, but students believe forming a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) would allow them to better negotiate safety conditions, training and wages.

"My experience in the workplace has been that health and safety are not always a priority. I know a lot of my coworkers feel the same way," Andi Mellon, a Berea student, said on Thursday.

Students petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in hopes of hosting a union election on campus by the end of the semester.

"Our message is it is pro-Berea to be pro-union," Mellon said.

Administrators have pushed back with legal representation, as they believe it would be at odds with the school's work-study foundation.

In a statement in response to Thursday's rally, the college wrote:

"While we respect students' right to express their opinions, we have been clear that unionization is not feasible in Berea. Unlike other colleges that hire some students directly as employees, Berea operates as a federally regulated Work College, where students participate in an integrated work-learning-service program, typically for 10 hours a week, and receive fully funded tuition and financial support for meals, housing, and cash to cover other expenses—all in the form of scholarship money meeting 100 percent of each student's need under the U.S. Department of Education's guidelines for student financial aid."

University president, Cheryl Nixon, has responded to the NLRB petition via a website dedicated to the issue. According to the site, she plans to meet with students to discuss their concerns.

Student workers and faculty members spoke at Thursday's rally, calling on the university to change course.

"We're trying to get people informed on what we're doing and we would really like to get the College to drop the challenges with the NLRB and start collaborating with us right now so we can have our election this semester," Mellon said.

An NLRB hearing on the petition is scheduled for April 17.

According to the CWA, if students were to unionize, it would become just the second union in the country to represent an entire undergraduate population.