Event Title

Dignity and Dining Halls: Relations of Power in Oberlin Labor

Presenter Information

Jeeva Muhil, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 323

Document Type

Event

Start Date

4-28-2017 4:30 PM

End Date

4-28-2017 5:50 PM

Abstract

Although campus dining workers make up an integral part of the campus labor force, they have rarely been the subject of sociological investigation. Previous research confirms that, like many other employers, colleges often rely upon subcontracting in order to sidestep the responsibility of exploitative labor relations. In response, campus labor coalitions reframe labor demands into larger moral appeals in order to mobilize popular support. In 1995, Oberlin’s dining facilities and maintenance staff unionized despite considerable administrative opposition, becoming affiliates of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union. Using a mixed method approach that draws upon qualitative interviews with current UAW members and an archival review of newspapers, administrative letters, and union documents, this paper examines Oberlin’s current working conditions, culture shifts in Oberlin’s labor practice or policy, and the strategies used by Oberlin labor activists to hold the college accountable. I analyze worker narratives to examine the interplay between moral framework and organizational identity. The archival review contextualizes Oberlin’s UAW labor relations within the broader scope of campus union organizing. Using the case studies of Yale – whose dining workers have been unionized since the 1980s – and Pomona – whose dining hall workers only unionized in 2015, my findings reveal that labor gains are hard-won and often mutable over time. These findings align with previous research and suggest that college administrative policy mirrors the broader neoliberal turn towards outsourcing and “flexible” or routinized labor. However, some campus unions have successfully repudiated these trends through of strong intergroup solidarity and strategic framing.

Keywords:

labor, unions, campus organizing, food service, dignity

Notes

Session III, Panel 17 - Oberlin | College
Moderator: Clovis White, Associate Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies

Major

Sociology

Award

Jerome Davis Research Award

Advisor(s)

Rick Baldoz, Sociology
Daphne John, Sociology

Project Mentor(s)

Christie Parris, Sociology

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Apr 28th, 4:30 PM Apr 28th, 5:50 PM

Dignity and Dining Halls: Relations of Power in Oberlin Labor

King Building 323

Although campus dining workers make up an integral part of the campus labor force, they have rarely been the subject of sociological investigation. Previous research confirms that, like many other employers, colleges often rely upon subcontracting in order to sidestep the responsibility of exploitative labor relations. In response, campus labor coalitions reframe labor demands into larger moral appeals in order to mobilize popular support. In 1995, Oberlin’s dining facilities and maintenance staff unionized despite considerable administrative opposition, becoming affiliates of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union. Using a mixed method approach that draws upon qualitative interviews with current UAW members and an archival review of newspapers, administrative letters, and union documents, this paper examines Oberlin’s current working conditions, culture shifts in Oberlin’s labor practice or policy, and the strategies used by Oberlin labor activists to hold the college accountable. I analyze worker narratives to examine the interplay between moral framework and organizational identity. The archival review contextualizes Oberlin’s UAW labor relations within the broader scope of campus union organizing. Using the case studies of Yale – whose dining workers have been unionized since the 1980s – and Pomona – whose dining hall workers only unionized in 2015, my findings reveal that labor gains are hard-won and often mutable over time. These findings align with previous research and suggest that college administrative policy mirrors the broader neoliberal turn towards outsourcing and “flexible” or routinized labor. However, some campus unions have successfully repudiated these trends through of strong intergroup solidarity and strategic framing.