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Berea Student Workers Announce Majority Support for Union to Represent Entire Undergraduate Student Body

Majority of 1,300 students at Berea College support forming the nation’s second wall-to-wall union of student workers.

BEREA, Ky.— Student workers at Berea College are forming a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The United Student Workers of Berea-CWA (USWB-CWA) would represent more than 1,300 undergraduate students and would be the second union in higher education to represent the entire undergraduate population, after Grinnell College.

Berea College is a work college and requires all students to work on campus. The student workers’ union has already demonstrated majority support and petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a democratic union election.

“My labor supervisor literally told me that this department sees about a 50% drop-out rate,” Maggie Neal, Class of ‘25, recounted her freshman year, working the graveyard shift as a facilities assistant in the MAC building. “The schedule left me struggling, sleeping through my morning classes, and failing a class that I had to drop. If you get stuck with a certain position and have no voice on the job, there’s a correlation and a causal relationship with drop-outs.”

Devin Carpenter, Class of ‘27, joined the union campaign after witnessing health and safety concerns in his assigned labor position as an Agricultural Apprentice on the College Farm. Carpenter suffers from severe eczema and asthma, conditions that were exacerbated by working with livestock feed.

“There were a couple times where my hands were so split open that I couldn’t comfortably hold a pencil or pen. I managed to get by through bandaging my hands,” said Carpenter. “As student workers, we want a voice on the job to address issues like lack of guidance on the job, lack of safety, or supervisors being totally inflexible. Our union will make Berea College stronger and more aligned with the values that brought us to this college.”

Berea College administration is employing an anti-union law firm, Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, and filed a motion with the NLRB to indefinitely postpone the student workers’ union election.

Members of the faculty voiced their support for the USWB-CWA union. “In Appalachia, unions are an important part of our history and culture, and we take pride in the courage people had to stand up to oppressive situations, and people fought and died so that we could have the right to unionize,” said Dr. Bobby Starnes, Chair of the Appalachian Studies Department. “We join with United Student Workers of Berea-CWA in calling on the College to live its values by dropping its anti-union law firm, dropping their challenges, and to allow for a democratic election this semester.”

CWA represents student and campus workers at public universities and private colleges. United Campus Workers-CWA spans from the University of Kentucky across the nation, with more than 7,000 members, and more campuses in states such as Arizona, Colorado, and Wisconsin are organizing. With USWB-CWA, Berea College student workers are at the forefront of a new wave of union organizing among undergraduate students.

This article was originally published on the Communication Workers of America union website on April 4, 2024.