RA Union approved in 55-9 majority
Resident assistants voted overwhelmingly 55‒9 to approve the RA Union. The election, administered by the National Labor Relations Board, took place last Tuesday and Wednesday in the Union. As a result of the election, Rensselaer will now be required by law to bargain collectively with the union in relation to RA compensation and working conditions.
Back in February of this year, the RA Union delivered a letter to President Martin A. Schmidt ’81, asking him to voluntarily recognize the union within five business days. They also released an online petition that has over 1,000 signatures. The letter was submitted on Monday, February 6, the same day Schmidt was visiting Phoenix on the Presidential Tour. He visited Houston and Austin on February 8 and 9, respectively.
The letter did not include any specific grievances; however, the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, the organization representing the union, issued a press release. It claims that RAs are paid 80 to 90 percent less than RAs at similar schools while they are “required to work well over 20 hours a week overseeing up to 80 students.” In an Instagram post, the RA Union laid out additional grievances like not being paid for the "70+ hour training each semester," having unequal work distribution between buildings, lackluster communication from administration, and being required to pay for a meal plan.
Once back on campus, Schmidt made the decision to not voluntarily recognize the union. Vice President for Student Life Peter Konwerski explained in a letter that recognition “without a free and fair election we would be taking away the opportunity for all RAs to vote.” Schmidt echoed this sentiment in his Spring Town Meeting held on March 23 were he said that his “thinking on this was that even though they presented a petition signed by 75 percent of RAs, I did not feel it was appropriate for the administration to take away from all the RAs the right to vote in a free, fair confidential election.”
Despite not being voluntarily recognized, the union was not dissuaded. They submitted paperwork the day after they were not recognized to the NLRB requesting an election. On March 2, the NLRB issued a notice for an election on March 28 and 29 from 2 to 6 pm. All 80 RAs were eligible to vote in the election, though only 64 of them did, which equates to an 80 percent turnout. Notably, in a letter to The Polytechnic, the RA Union boasted having support from 85 percent of RAs. Yet when the election came, only 68 percent of all RAs voted in favor of the Union.
The Polytechnic reached out to the Institute for comment. In a statement, Konwerski said “we respect the decision of our resident assistants, and we look forward to moving ahead to address issues that support the RA experience and advance the experience of all our student residents.”
Following the election, the RA Union issued a press release. The press release quoted an organizing committee member saying, “it has been a difficult road to get here. Although the real work starts now. Our mission to improve RA working conditions is one we’ll have to work at every single day. We’re looking forward to it!”