Students should form unions

Molly Sweeney

Opinions Column.

Students in colleges and universities all over the country have begun to unionize, whether that’s in the dorms at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. or the dining hall at Grinnell College in Iowa, according to the Iowa Law Review.

Unions are useful to allow workers to have their voices heard, whether it’s for safety concerns or for wages and benefits. 

However, few colleges and universities have had student unions on campus- until recently. 

Previously, according to the Federal Register, “students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not ‘employees’ within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act.”

However, on March 14, 2021, this proposed rule was withdrawn, allowing college workers to be considered employees and thus granting them the ability to form student unions.

Unions are the backbone of workers. Without them, workers would not have the bargaining power that they do today. Additionally, unionizing is widely recognized across the world as a human right and is supported by U.S law for the majority of workers. 

Augustana students should take a rule out of these other colleges and universities playbooks to form unions. Change has to begin somewhere on a college campus, and banding together seems like a pretty good first start.  

According to, employers are allowed to pay student workers as little as 85 percent of the minimum wage.

Student workers at Augustana are paid $9.25 an hour, but the minimum wage in Illinois is $12 and continuously rising. 

And that’s not even digging into the can of worms that is the Community Advisory (CA) position. They are paid a stipend, which means that the number of hours they work doesn’t impact their pay.  

Although the school tries to ensure each CA only works 15 hours a week, it’s possible (and likely) that some CA’s would occasionally work more than 15 hours a week. These CA’s would not compensated for working more hours. 

Many students have acknowledged that the amount they make per hour isn’t fair, but without an organized group, what can students even do about that? 

Creating unions at the college level gives students bargaining power. Student employees are both working for a degree and working to pay for tuition, rent and other expenses in their life. This is a time when they aren’t making much money but they’re expected to pay “adult” bills. 

By creating a student union at Augustana, students might be able to voice concerns over wages, hours they receive, safety and more.

Another major concern that student workers face is the amount of hours they receive. 

Domestic students are able to work up to 10 hours a week in one job while international students are able to work up to 20 hours a week. 

Domestic student workers are seen as “students” first and “workers” second. 

As a student worker, I can appreciate the idea of putting my academics first, however in reality, it is also important to be able to pay for these academics in the first place. 

Being paid $9.25 an hour for 10 hours a week is not sustainable to either pay for my expenses or to pay for tuition. 

Because of this, I have to work all summer to afford to pay for school. 

By unionizing, students could bargain for different hours, whether that be more hours for those that need to make more money or less hours for the students who feel overworked. 

Some people might argue that college students wouldn’t be able to afford union dues, or that they are useless at the college level. 

Others might also argue that Augustana student unions would need to hire lawyers, find the time to organize or even have the financial resources to go on strike long enough to create change. 

I would argue, however, that being in a union is worth it in the long run. Students could earn better wages, better benefits and have a voice in their workplace. 

Arguments against striking are short term issues. 

The only way to create real change is to promote discomfort to fight for what you want. 

Forming unions would create the kind of change at Augustana that many students, including myself, feel is necessary.