BREAKING: RAs declare intent to form union, ask university for voluntary recognition

20 Professors Row, the former home of the Office of Residential Life and Learning, is pictured on Oct. 22, 2019. The ORLL has since moved to 120 Packard Avenue. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily
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Tufts Resident Assistants are unionizing following months of planning. In a letter to University President Anthony Monaco and Director of Residential Life and Learning Christina Alch, members of United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants said that over 80% of the RAs have signed union authorization cards, declaring their intent to form a union and requesting that the university voluntarily recognize it. 

“Despite the valuable work we do for the Tufts community, RAs continue to receive no wages or any fringe benefits beyond a room credit and are required to attend 80 hours of unpaid training annually,” the letter says. “Resident Assistants have little to no say over our contracts, which contain ambiguities and are subject to unforeseen changes at the discretion of ORLL. … These concerns, along with the insufficiency of existing avenues for change, have thus led us to pursue unionization.”

ULTRA has organized as a union under the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 153. OPEIU, which is part of AFL-CIO, has more than 100,000 members. In their letter, they request a response by Nov. 16.

In their letter to Monaco and Alch, ULTRA said that “RAs have been bringing forward concerns and requests to the ORLL and have been met with inaction,” and that RAs received “inadequate support” throughout the pandemic. Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, declined to comment on this story.

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Sophomore Clarence Yeh, an RA who is unionizing, believes the university has not offered RAs enough support.

“It’s been taxing on a lot of my fellow RAs but we suck it up because we need the housing,” Yeh wrote in a message to the Daily. “Being an RA is an important position and responsibility, so it’s important that we have a way to make sure our voice is heard.”

A draft resolution submitted to the Tufts Community Union Senate by David Whittingham, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences, and Theresa Quinto, a junior in the School of Engineering, calls on the university to voluntarily recognize ULTRA and “speedily begin bargaining in good faith with the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants.” The authors request a response from President Anthony Monaco within two weeks. 

The draft resolution highlights how Tufts RAs only receive room credit as their compensation and are required to attend two weeks of unpaid annual training. It further states that “the Tufts Resident Assistant contract lacks clarity and expects an unreasonable degree of flexibility of RAs.” 

The resolution emphasizes the importance of labor unions in the United States and recognizes how the increase of recent unionization in the country is “part of a movement against the concentration of economic power in increasingly few hands.” In the past few months, undergraduate and graduate student workers from MIT, Wesleyan, Boston University and more have unionized.

The draft resolution notes the disproportionate representation of students of color, first-generation and low-income students in the RA workforce, explaining that “the fair treatment and compensation and RAs [is] integral to Tufts University’s proclaimed commitment to equity and support for marginalized groups.”

The draft resolution labels American universities as centers of “anti-worker austerity and social atomization,” calling on Tufts to show that it values its workers and civic progress. The Senate will vote on the final text of the resolution on Sunday.

This is a developing story.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified David Whittingham as a senior. Whittingham is a junior. A previous version of this article was also mistakenly accompanied by an image of the FIRST Center rather than the Office of Residential Life and Learning. The Daily regrets these errors.

Clarification: ULTRA refers to itself as a union, although they are not yet an officially certified union. They have declared their intent to unionize after 80% of RAs signed union authorization cards, and are asking the university to voluntarily recognize their union. The article has been updated to reflect this distinction. The article has also been updated to reflect that the RAs requested a response to their letter by Nov. 16.

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