Student Activism

Konwerski responds to RPI RA Union, union responds back

Vice President for Student Life Peter Konwerski sent out a new RA compensation plan in light of the RPI RA Union's letter. The union wrote a press release back. Below are Konwerski's letter and the RPI RA Union's response, respectively.

Konwerski's Letter

Good afternoon,

Our students are the cornerstone of this university. We are committed to fostering a caring, inclusive, and supporting environment so that every student can have a sense of belonging, pursue their passions, and succeed. Resident Assistants like you play a vital role in the lives of our students. Through your peer-to-peer interactions and mentoring, you become a guiding light for our students, and I am deeply grateful.

During Dr. Schmidt's fall listening tour, the issue of RA compensation was shared with the President. RPI conducted a benchmarking review of RA benefits against a group of peer institutions. As a result of this work, our Living and Learning leadership team presented me a new RA compensation plan as part of the annual budgeting process that began in the fall of 2022. The plan is intended to move RPI into the top third of the peer group. I was in support of the proposal and reviewed it with President Schmidt who has approved this additional RA compensation. We have included it in our upcoming budget, to be rolled out beginning in the next academic year.

The new plan adds to the RAs' existing full room credit a dining benefit phased in over two years starting in Fall 2023, and will increase the cash stipend for Lead RAs. Here are the details:

Academic Year 2023-24

All RAs will receive a dining credit for 50% of the '12 On Demand' meal plan. Additionally, the Lead RA stipend will increase to $500/semester. Based on current room and dining rates, this will increase compensation to a value of $6,058 per semester for RAs and $6,258 per semester for Lead RAs.

Beginning Academic Year 2024-25

All RAs will receive additional dining credit, covering 100% of the '12 On Demand' meal plan, with stipends unchanged. Based on current room and dining rates, this will increase compensation to a value of $7,720 per semester for RAs, and $7,920 per semester for Lead RAs.

Once proposed budgets are developed, they are subject to a formal approval which occurs annually in March. We typically communicate plans impacting the budget once the budget is formally approved, but we have decided to share this news with you, and as we recruit RAs for the upcoming year. We greatly appreciate the important role you play as a Rensselaer Resident Assistant in supporting and caring for our students, and we remain committed to ensuring our RAs, and all of our students, have the best possible experience at RPI!

RPI RA Union's Response

Yesterday, Vice President for Student Life Dr. Peter Konwerski issued a statement to the Rensselaer community addressing our recent unionization efforts. Crucially, this statement represents an official refusal on the part of the Institute to voluntarily recognize the Office and Professional Employees International Union as the sole bargaining representative for all Resident Assistants at RPI. The purpose of this letter is to address the points raised by Dr. Konwerski, and reiterate our goals as we move forward.

First, the statement from Dr. Konwerski suggests that voluntary recognition would “bypass a fair, free and confidential election for all RAs.” We reject this characterization, and point out that over 76% of RAs have—in a signed and dated petition—already expressed their desire to unionize. Additionally, we reject the framing of RAs as only “student leaders” and assert that per our duties and responsibilities, we are demonstrably employees. Ultimately, it is our view that Rensselaer’s refusal to recognize our union per our request is implicitly undemocratic and serves only to drag out the unionization process.

Further, after discussing Dr. Konwerski’s letter with the entire workforce, we do not believe that the solutions proposed by RPI adequately address our concerns. While the proposed changes to the RA contract are appreciated, we do not believe they reflect the value of our work. We note that previously RPI RAs received a meal plan and a higher living stipend, so the addition of these items to the current RA contract merely restores our compensation to past levels. We note also that these concessions are not necessarily permanent, and that without the protection of a union, the administration could roll them back at any time.

We are disappointed to see that none of our other concerns were addressed by the Institute. Were we to accept the proposed amendments, RAs would still be saddled with an overwhelming and uneven workload, reductions in their financial aid, a hostile work environment, unsafe protocols and procedures, and poor communication from administration. Furthermore, it would provide no framework for RAs to participate in policy development, nor would it provide systems for resolving conflicts between students, RAs, and university staff.

The right to unionize has been declared a universal human right by the United Nations, and is enshrined in US law. Our official position remains that student workers are workers, and that every worker deserves a union. It is our goal to ensure that every RA at RPI has their voice heard, and we remain committed to the unionization process. We have already requested a formal election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). As the RPI administration has clearly voiced their support for a free and fair election, we look forward to their support throughout this process and to working alongside them in the future.