Townsquare/Dstillery pixel

Information for and Frequently Asked Questions by Student Workers about Unionization

Hamilton wants student workers to have all the facts, to think through the issues carefully, and to make a well-informed individual choice about unions.

UFCW and Hamilton Resident Advisors, DMC Student Workers

The College acknowledged receipt on November 10, 2021, of a petition by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (Local One) seeking to represent DMC Ambassadors, and a second petition seeking to represent Resident Advisors. On December 3, UFCW Local One notified the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that Local One withdrew without prejudice both petitions.

UFCW and Hamilton Admission Ambassadors and Tour Guides

On October 12, 2021, the National Labor Relations Board counted the ballots and a majority of the Admission student workers who voted selected union representation by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (Local One). Bargaining began in April 2022, and is still underway. 

Hamilton supports the right of workers to choose what they believe is best for them. We recognize that there were strong opinions on both sides of this issue, and we encourage everyone to work together as we move forward. As always, Hamilton greatly appreciates all of the hard work and dedication that our student employees bring to the jobs they perform while pursuing their academic careers.

About Labor Unions

A union is a legal entity that negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements with the employers of dues-paying members, detailing the terms and conditions of employment.

The U.S. NLRA (29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169) was enacted by Congress in 1935 in an era when there were no employment-related legal rights. The NLRA does not promote or discourage unions, but rather gives workers the right to choose and the process for making the choice. The NLRA is overseen by a federal agency called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Union membership in the U.S. in the private sector peaked back in 1954 at 34% of the total workforce. Today only 6% choose to work in a union environment. The reasons for this decline include the rise of federal and state employment legal protections, improved management practices, and the cost of union dues and other workplace conditions in unionized settings.

The legal process starts with the filing of a petition with the NLRB requesting an election. The petition must be supported by signatures from at least 30% of the workers in the potential bargaining unit. The NLRB then schedules the election, at which point each worker in the voting group can vote yes for the union or no to remain union-free. This is a secret ballot election, so all voters (whether or not they signed for the election) can make their own decision. The outcome is decided by the majority of votes cast.

An unfair labor practice is an action by an employer or a union that violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Examples include threats, discrimination, or retaliation on the basis of union activity; asking how employees will vote in an election to establish a union; and refusal to bargain with an established union.

Yes. As always, Hamilton supervisors and leaders welcome conversations with student workers and will make themselves available for any questions and will be responsive to meeting requests.

Managers have the right to express their own opinion, encourage student workers to choose wisely, provide and discuss factual information about unions, and explain the disadvantages of a unionized workplace and the advantages of a union-free workplace.

Union organizers cannot stop student workers from talking with their supervisors about the election or about anything else throughout the process.

Yes. Employers are permitted to maintain current terms and conditions of employment including following through on pre-planned actions and well-established patterns and practices. However, if a union is elected, any future changes would be subject to the collective bargaining process."

Voter turnout is critical in many elections. Not voting means you are leaving a decision that will affect you for others to make, and possibly allowing a minority opinion to prevail. The College strongly encourages everyone to vote so that the outcome will reflect the true majority wishes.

The union immediately would become the exclusive spokesperson and decision-maker for the bargaining units with respect to terms and conditions of employment. By law the College would be prohibited from dealing with student employees as individuals and immediately precluded from making any future changes to the terms without engaging in the collective bargaining process with the union. Examples of terms and conditions include hours worked, ability to change scheduled work days, taking time off for sick leave or mental health days, and dress code.

You have a legally protected right to share your opinion with other members of the voting group. You can express your views and the reasons for your views publicly or directly to your peers, either in writing or verbally. No one can be retaliated against for expressing their view on this issue, and no one should allow their voice to be suppressed because of intimidation. 

No. The NLRB protects the secrecy of each voter’s choice. The NLRB will only publish the total number of yes votes and the total number of no votes. 

How Labor Unions Affect Work Practices

Unionization means important changes in the work environment. Students who work at Hamilton College have always had a direct relationship with the College as their employer, in addition to their academic relationship. Each student worker and each supervisor or manager can freely communicate with one another about any issue at any time, work together to address workplace issues and  develop individualized arrangements. In a unionized work environment, the direct employment relationship between each student worker and the College would be replaced by a legal bargaining relationship between the College and the external labor organization, in this case UFCW Local One. The College would be legally prohibited from dealing with student workers directly over any terms and conditions of employment. The union would negotiate a one-size-fits-all collective bargaining agreement between the UFCW and the College governing the terms of employment. Union work environments are typically formalistic and rule-driven. The overall impact would likely be a work experience that is less personal and more transactional. Unions also require payment of dues.

According to UFCW Local One’s most recent financial statement on file with the U.S. Dept. of Labor (statement for period ending 12/31/20), dues range from a minimum of $6.85 to a maximum of $12.80 per week.

FOR EXAMPLE ONLY Hourly Rate $12.75 Approximate Minimum Monthly Union Dues Net Monthly (4 weeks) Pay before Taxes
Weekly Pay for 2 Hours/Week $25.50 $30.00 Before dues $102.00
After dues $72.00  
29.4% reduction
Weekly Pay for 5 Hours/Week $63.75 $30.00 Before dues $255.00
After dues $225.00  
11.8% reduction
Weekly Pay for 10 Hours/Week $127.50 $30.00 Before dues $510.00
After dues $480.00  
5.9% reduction

No. If elected, the UFCW and the College would engage in collective bargaining in a good-faith effort to reach a mutually agreeable labor contract. However, neither party is required to accept any particular proposal that the other party makes. There is no guarantee of a wage increase, and there is no guarantee that the final contract would be better than what the student workers had before the union.

According to one source, it takes, on average, 409 days for a new union to finalize a labor agreement.

No. Under the NLRA, all student workers holding positions encompassed by the bargaining unit description would be represented by the union and bound by its decisions on behalf of the unit if it is elected as collective bargaining representative. Individual student workers cannot opt out of the bargaining unit after the election.

No. Federal labor law makes it very difficult to remove a union once it has been certified as the legal bargaining representative for a unit of employees. Any attempt to remove the union is prohibited during the one-year period following an election. Furthermore, any attempt to remove a union is prohibited during the term of a collective bargaining agreement, except for a narrow 30-day window near the contract expiration. Since most collective bargaining agreements have a term of three years, the practical effect if the union is elected is that it could be locked in place for up to four years (e.g., one year of bargaining followed by a three-year contract). After that, the opportunity to remove a union would likely only occur for 30 days once every three years. Even then, the decertification process is difficult and employers are prohibited from providing any assistance to employees who wish to remove the union. Thus, decertification is very rare, and the decision to unionize is practically irreversible in most cases. 

What is the College’s position on student worker unions?

Hamilton is first and foremost an educational institution, with faculty and staff dedicated to supporting students in all aspects of their campus experience, including on-campus employment, which often provides opportunities for experiential learning. While unions for private sector workers (as opposed to government workers) have played a vital role in the past, and continue to do so in some settings, the College believes unions may not be a good fit for undergraduate workers. The College believes it is not a coincidence that unions are so rare among undergraduate student workers. The College strongly prefers to maintain a direct working relationship with student workers and hopes that relationship will not be severed in favor of an outside organization, with interests and an agenda that may well differ from what’s best for Hamilton students.

That said, the College fully supports the right of any workers to choose what they believe is best for them. The College wants these students to have all the facts, to think through the issues carefully, and to make a well-informed individual choice.

The College takes pride in providing a positive working environment, maintaining open communications, and hearing from students about any issues or concerns. 


Student Employment Office

The $400 million campaign to provide students with a life-altering education.

Learn More About the Campaign

Site Search