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Dartmouth dining workers form union in unanimous vote

A photo of student workers standing in the snow holding sheets of paper.
Alex Driehaus/Valley News / Report For America
Valley News
From left, Dartmouth Dining Services student workers and organizers of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth Nadine Formiga, Reyna Santoyo, Ian Scott and Kaya Colakoglu look through a petition notifying the college of their intent to unionize accompanied by over 1,000 signatures of students and community supporters before delivering it to President Philip Hanlon's office at Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, NH., on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott said, it's important to recognize the value of our labor and our power to organize.

HANOVER — Dartmouth College students who work at the campus’ dining halls have unanimously voted to form a union.

Called the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth, the new union will represent undergraduate students who work for Dartmouth Dining Services’ 11 dining locations. The 52 “yes” votes represent a little more than a third of undergraduate student dining workers on campus.

“We are very excited,” said Kaya Colakoglu, a second-year student at Dartmouth who is a member of the union’s organizing committee. “This is by all means a mass effort, and we are proud to have run a democratic campaign of a collective nature. It holds a lot of promise for the future.”

Efforts to form the union began in January in response to working conditions that were amplified during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including staff shortages, long lines and unpaid sick leave.

After voluntarily forming the union in January, students asked Dartmouth College officials to recognize it later that month. College officials declined, opting to work with them to arrange an election moderated by the National Labor Relations Board. The mail-in campaign took place from March 1 to 29, which included the college’s spring break. The votes were counted by the NLRB in Boston, and students were able to watch via Zoom.

“Dartmouth believes this election was fair and took place under a framework that allowed for participation by students from as many terms as possible,” Dartmouth College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence wrote in an email. “We respect the students’ choice and look forward to developing a strong relationship with the collective, as we have with the members of SEIU Local 560.”

While the vote total was 52-0, there were three votes cast by student worker managers that the college disputes, according to Colakoglu.

“Dartmouth disputes that they are technically not workers, they’re supervisors and not eligible for representation,” said Colakoglu, who works 10 to 15 hours a week at a snack bar on campus. “We argue that that’s not correct, that student managers are workers who deserve representation and do not have the power to discipline or fire student workers. We are going to fight for their representation for the union … and coverage under the contract.”

After the unionizing effort was announced, Dartmouth began paying students 1½ times their regular rate of pay for working during the pandemic and agreed to give students paid time off if they contract COVID-19.

Members of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth will now begin working on a platform, Colakoglu said, and hope to meet with college officials “as soon as possible” to begin negotiations. Among the topics they will advocate for are higher pay, better benefits and paid sick leave.

The Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth is now the fifth recognized undergraduate student union in the country. Last week, residential life student employees who formed the Wesleyan Union of Student Employees became the first in the country to have their union voluntarily recognized by their college, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

“I think it’s very impressive. We are working with not only Wesleyan, but student worker unions at Grinnell College and Hamilton College and UMass Amherst as well as unionizing student workers at Kenyon,” Colakoglu said, referring to schools in Grinnell, Iowa; Clinton, N.Y.; Amherst, Mass.; and Gambier, Ohio. “We are coordinating and sharing our experiences, methods and strategies. This is essentially a movement that has caught fire around the country and, from what we know, is not going to stop anytime soon.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information 

Corrected: April 1, 2022 at 3:17 PM EDT
This article was corrected to include a byline.
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