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ResLife Student Workers’ Unionization Effort Calls for Job Transparency and Equitable Wages

The main goal of unionizing Boston College Residential Life student workers is to put ResLife employees on more of an equal playing field with their employers, BC ResLife Student Workers said in an email to The Heights.

“A BC ResLife student workers union would give us the ability to negotiate for more equitable compensation for our labor, more efficient training to actually equip RAs with the skills necessary to be first responders on campus, job security, standardized job expectations and work conditions, and more,” the email reads.

In an email sent on Sept. 10, BC Reslife Workers called for the establishment of a ResLife student workers union for resident assistants (RAs), graduate student assistants (GSAs), graduate resident directors (GRDs), and summer operations staff.

“We have heard time and time again from RAs how clear it is that we are undervalued and treated unfairly in the face of a wealthy institution,” the email reads. “Essentially, by fighting to establish a union for ResLife student workers, we are asking for a voice in our jobs on campus.”

Student residential workers at many other neighboring institutions have also begun efforts to unionize. At Tufts University, RAs announced plans to unionize in November of 2022, creating the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants. 

In January, non-academic undergraduate student employees at Harvard University formed the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union to demand an increase in pay, better hours, and improved communication from employers. 

The RAs of Boston University also moved to unionize in February, asking for better pay and more support when dealing with conflict between students.

At BC, one Upper Campus RA said there is ambiguity surrounding the responsibilities of RAs in the current contract, and a union could help set more clear guidelines.

“Right now the RA contract doesn’t say much besides you’re expected to do ‘blah, blah, blah,’ based off of what community you live in, that ResLife has the autonomy to adjust how much you’re working, as well as require you to do certain tasks based off of which community you’re living in,” the RA said.

In a statement to The Heights, Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said ResLife student workers are encouraged to raise their concerns with Associate Vice President of Residential Life George Arey and Director of Residential Education Dorrie Siqueiros.

“As student leaders, we ask our RAs, GAs, and any other student within the Residential Life Department to consider raising any concerns they might have with leadership in Residential Life, where the issues can be addressed amicably,” he said.

Dunn said that unionization would affect the relationship between RAs and fellow students, as well as their relationship with the University.

“We believe that these student leadership positions play a pivotal role in establishing a formative residential experience for our students and that unionization would alter the special relationship they have with fellow BC students and the University,” Dunn said. 

Dunn also emphasized that BC appreciates its student ResLife workers.

“Boston College greatly values its Residential Life student workers and the contributions they make to the BC community,” he said. “The compensation package we offer, which covers housing costs, meal plan, and the University health fee, is provided in recognition of their contributions.”

In its email to The Heights, ResLife Student Workers said another goal of the unionization effort is to garner more overall respect for RAs, GSAs, and GRDs.

“Another goal is to increase, campus wide and in the eyes of our employers, the appreciation and respect for RAs, GSAs, and GRDs,” the email states. “Boston College would not be able to operate without RAs being available 24/7 as a resource for students living on campus.”

It is not fair that all RAs do not have the same work responsibilities assigned by their resident directors, the Upper Campus RA said.

“Another RA who lives on Newton, her resident director put her on a cleaning committee,” the RA said. “So she’s like she’s tasked with cleaning the office space and cleaning the resource room, meanwhile that’s featured nowhere on the job contract that we signed. It’s all very clear that there’s no standardized idea of what we’re supposed to be doing.”

According to the Upper Campus RA, most ResLife student workers who are not outwardly pro-union say they are comfortable with the way the current contract works.

“A lot of RAs that have not been outspokenly pro-union have been saying, ‘I’m still comfortable with my role so I don’t see what needs to change,’” the RA said. “Well, a union doesn’t have to add anything, but we can still make sure that what is making them comfortable with their role is written in the contract.”

Another RA added that it is important for all RAs to support the unionization effort, even if they are happy in their current position.

“To the RAs who are hesitant on joining, you should just think about it a little bit more and keep in mind that it’s not like we’re not all just gonna get together and go on strike one day, it’s just getting our voices out there,” they said.

Additionally, RAs are not allowed to work more than 10 hours a week at another on-campus job, making it difficult for them to have a stable income because they have no weekly paycheck from BC, the other RA said. 

“I know RAs who pay their tuition and so it’s like, the 10 hours a week you’re working at the bookstore is not going to make you enough money to pay that monthly tuition payment,” the RA said.

They also explained that ResLife student workers are allowed by the National Labor Relations Board to start attempts to negotiate a new contract with BC if 30 percent of ResLife student workers sign a union authorization card

At this point, the RAs have had no communication with the University about unionization efforts, the Upper Campus RA said.

“We have actually had zero direct contact with the University in terms of us reaching out to them, and then reaching out to us,” the RA said. “University administration and University officials are actually advised not to contact any BC students or BC workers who are discussing unionization which is Kosher in a lot of places, but also, they want to say how much they’re here to help us when clearly that’s not the case.”

The Upper Campus RA emphasized that the BC community needs to be supportive of ResLife student workers, regardless of if they know an RA or do not.

“Even if you’re not an RA, none of your close friends are an RA, if you really just have never even given it a second thought that does not exempt you from not supporting or ignoring the unionization efforts that RAs across campus are trying to put out,” the RA said.  

Editor’s Note: The RAs interviewed for this article were granted anonymity in accordance with The Heights’ editorial policy, which states anonymity is given when a source has a credible belief that having their name attached to a story would risk them losing their job.

September 24, 2023