Nearly 100 resident assistants at Emerson College announced their intention to unionize Monday, the latest addition to the undergraduate organizing movement in Massachusetts.
Just before 9 a.m., students marched to the Office of Housing and Residence Life and the office of President Jay M. Bernhardt to deliver a letter requesting voluntary recognition. If the college declines, the resident assistants will take the matter to a vote with the National Labor Relations Board.
Around 80 percent of the RAs have signed union cards already.
“Our hope is that you will allow our union to develop and maintain a close and collaborative relationship with the College,” the letter reads. “We believe this would not only benefit us and our ability to shape the future of the RA position, but also benefit the College itself.”
Nick Renteria, a third-year RA and organizing committee member, said the process of unionizing with the Office and Professional Employees International Union began in earnest last month, though it had been simmering since last semester. (Emerson RAs sent around an organizing interest form as early as March, near when one RA was fired after she reached out to college police to help an inebriated friend at the end of a night of drinking.)
Now Renteria hopes a union will help solidify the disciplinary policy for RAs, encourage more transparency from the college about their responsibilities, and create a pay stipend.
RAs are currently compensated with free housing and meal plans. But Renteria said the students calculated that they create $1,400 more value for the college annually than room and board are worth.
“The value that we are receiving isn’t equal to the work that we’re doing,” said Renteria, 21. “I want this union not just to represent the RAs, but also the students we serve. We want to leverage our bargaining power to not just represent us, but to make the college more responsive and transparent as a whole.”
A spokesperson for Emerson declined to comment.
The union efforts at Emerson come after RAs at Boston University, Tufts University, Mount Holyoke College, and Wesleyan University have also organized. Those campaigns have sparked some friction in the world of higher education. Most recently, around 150 RAs at Tufts went on strike on freshman move-in day to push the university to propose a contract that included a new wage structure with a semesterly stipend.