Swarthmore students campaign for card check neutrality in workers' unionizing, 2006


To get the College Management to become neutral with respect to college workers potential unionizing via a Card Check Neutrality Agreement.

Time period

March, 2006 to May, 2006


United States

Location City/State/Province

Swarthmore, Pennsylvannia

Location Description

Swarthmore College Campus
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

Methods in 3rd segment

Methods in 5th segment

Methods in 6th segment

Segment Length

Approximately 12 days


Student Labor Action Project


Some of the workers but not all

External allies

Not Known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


College Board of Directors and management

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Swarthmore College Students

Groups in 1st Segment

Swarthmore College students

Groups in 2nd Segment

Swarthmore College workers

Segment Length

Approximately 12 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

0 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


0 out of 3 points

Total points

1 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The timing of the summer break might have been influential in slowing the campaign. The workers ambivalence with respect to what they wanted was key in putting the students off as they could not fight for others who were not sure if they wanted a fight at all. It is difficult to discern if this division of the workers was natural or fabricated.

Database Narrative

Swarthmore College is a small liberal arts college close to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  During the spring semester of 2006 campus workers at Swarthmore began to organize a union. For the union to be established a significant number of the workers had to vote in favor. However, some workers felt that the election method at the college, the standard National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) method, did not support a safe environment for the workers to freely express themselves. They believed that some college supervisors were sending subtle but powerful anti-union messages to the workers.

In response, a college student group known as the Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) requested the college to sign an agreement to foster a neutral environment, allowing workers to discuss freely the possibility of a union and the election method of card check neutrality.

Starting before spring break, SLAP scattered fliers around campus supporting the potential union. The general response of the student body was quite positive. Within the first days of circulation, 25% of the student body had signed a petition urging the college to switch the voting method to card check neutrality. 

On 14 March student union supporters met with Swarthmore College President Alfred Bloom to request card check neutrality conditions during the process of voting. On 23 March the President held a meeting of workers to hear their opinions regarding the formation and voting of the possible union. Soon after the meeting, the President declined the students’ request. 

Pro-union workers later alleged that the meeting was formed unprofessionally and secretively rather than via a staff meeting, as usual. They stated that were not informed of the meeting and complained that the fact that some workers were against the formation of the union (as expressed in the meeting with the president) was in no way a reason to close the discussion and deny the card check neutrality request altogether. 

Even though some students kept on lobbying, the campaign died out during the summer break, soon after the president’s denial.


National trend of college employees who unionized (Harvard, Georgetown, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) influenced this campaign. (1)
From 2000-2004 there had been an extensive and successful campaign in Swarthmore College for an acceptable living wage for its employees. It is possible that this recent campaign influenced the 2006 one, either by the sense of victory, the sense of justice or a remaining infrastructure. (1)


Sharma, Tally. "Tri-Co employees, students rally support for union." The Phoenix, 16 March 2006. Accessed 02/02/2013 <http://www.archive.swarthmorephoenix.com/2006/03/16/news/trico-employees-students-rally-support-for-union>
Floyd, Carrie and Shultz, Ruth. "Implicit intimidation exists for staff." The Phoenix, 30 March 2006. Accessed 02/02/2013 <http://www.archive.swarthmorephoenix.com/2006/03/30/opinions/implicit-intimidation-exists-for-staff>
Wali, Hamza. "Confusion denies workers their rights." The Phoenix, 20 April 2006. Accessed 02/02/2013 <http://www.archive.swarthmorephoenix.com/2006/04/20/opinions/confusion-denies-workers-their-rights>
Sharma, Tally. "College workers disagree on need for union." The Phoenix, 20 April 2006. Accessed 02/02/2013 <http://www.archive.swarthmorephoenix.com/2006/04/20/news/college-workers-disagree-on-need-for-union>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Andrés Cordero, 03/02/2013