The Oberlin Review

Routine Board Retreat Ends in Employee Strike

Adam Gittin, News editor

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The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association’s four non-student employees are striking after a heated discussion with students about structural change.

Members of Third World Co-op used the OSCA Board Retreat last Sunday at the Oberlin Public Library as an opportunity to voice their frustrations with OSCA and its employees (the non-students who work for OSCA are employees, while the students who work for OSCA are staff). Two employees were singled out by name. The students from TWC then presented a list of demands and staged a walkout back to their co-op.

College sophomore Hannah Sklar chops vegetables while College first-year Emma Doyle Cooks in the background. Co-ops will still function normally as employee strikes continue.

Bryan Rubin, Photo editor
College sophomore Hannah Sklar chops vegetables while College first-year Emma Doyle Cooks in the background. Co-ops will still function normally as employee strikes continue.

“A summary of the demands is as follows: that OSCA’s employees leave more decision-making room for student staff; that [student name omitted for privacy], a former TWC member, be compensated for her current and future work with OSCA’s Rent Contract Negotiation Team; [and] that the process of hiring future employees be entirely transparent and open to membership input,” said OSCA’s student officers in an email addressed to OSCA’s 615 members.

The officers, who are OSCA’s president, membership secretary, treasurer and chair of the Board, did not intervene when the policy discussion at the retreat escalated into personal attacks on OSCA’s employees. Student staff and the Board, which includes the officers, representatives from each co-op and elected OSCA members, met without the employees after the walkout to discuss structural change, the officers said.

The employees who are on strike — Food Safety Advisor Rachel Beiser, Business Coordinator Kevin G. Gilfether, Financial Manager Iris Hunt and Office Assistant Arlene Muir — are responsible for the work students are unable to do because of the sheer workload and swift turnover among student staff positions, they said in an email to the Review.

“Many of these responsibilities are directly related to maintaining legal compliance and can be both very specific and complex,” the employees stated. “OSCA’s employees have been asked to make exceptions to a degree that could be considered violations of compliance.”

OSCA operates as a 501(c)(7) non-profit, so it is exempt from paying certain taxes, but there are legal limits to what it can do based on this tax status. Losing that status could mean having to pay back taxes, which would likely cripple OSCA’s finances.

The employees explained that they were confronted with a dilemma: either comply with the demands and potentially compromise OSCA’s legal standing or maintain their professional integrity and face the students’ ire.

“OSCA’s employees are striking until we can meet with the full OSCA Board of Directors to discuss this problem and solutions,” they said. “We care deeply for the organization as a whole and want to keep it functional for future generations of Oberlin College students.”

Both sides will likely meet in the coming week to determine the best ways to accommodate student demands while ensuring that employees have a fair and safe work environment.

 

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