The vast majority of undergraduate students have jobs. These jobs are often low-paying, part-time ways to receive a bit of spending money. To work in order to make a dent in our student loans seems impossible. Oftentimes, our jobs become a responsibility that do not allow us to focus completely on our studies and learning. The term “full-time” student always made me giggle as there are certainly students who are full-time workers and full-time students. And what is the purpose of being a full-time student if that is not what we are doing “full-time?” Students across the nation are responding to these issues in different ways. But the most effective way to assure better rights for ourselves and for the work we do is to unionize.
Undergraduate unions for student workers have been popping up on campuses throughout the US, and it isn’t just at the large, state universities. Grinnell College, in Grinnell, IA, is home to the first undergraduate workers union at a private college. Their enrollment is similar to our own, and they were able to organize a union for student dining workers. The school remained neutral to the union vote and the students won with a yes vote of 91 percent. Both the students and the non-student workers within the union were able to secure a wage increase, bonuses and more. All of these things will contribute to a better learning environment in which students are able to collectively negotiate with the school.
The successes of other undergraduate student unions shouldn’t be our end goal. We should be able to decide and pinpoint issues that are unique to Loras students. Not only are many students workers, but they are also renters. In many cases, students do not know their rights as tenants and have no way of filing grievances against landlords who often exploit them. A student tenants union would be a way that students could be organized to have a singular voice and to hold landlords accountable on issues that may be against Iowa law.
We must recognize our position as not only students, but also as workers and renters too. We can collectively achieve a better environment both on campus and in our individual learning experience. We have power, but we do not actualize it. When students are able to join together to form a union, whether that be for their status as workers or as tenants, they are able to actively create an environment that best suits their needs and their interests. They are able to make a change.