Tufts RAs elect to form union in 99–3 vote

The Tufts Daily

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A sign directing resident assistants to the voting location is pictured on Dec. 14.Photo by(Quan Tran / The Tufts Daily)

By Ari Navetta

Tufts resident assistants voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to form a union. The 99–3 vote, representing a 72% turnout from RAs, established the United Labor of Tufts Residents Assistants under the Local 153 branch of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, a union of over 100,000 workers nationwide.

“We hope that we can continue to have a more or less positive relationship with Tufts and they’ll be amenable to bargaining with us, that they’ll … not try to drag out or delay bargaining or bargain in bad faith,” junior David Whittingham, an RA and union organizer, said.

ULTRA is now the certified bargaining representative for all Tufts RAs. Following federal recognition of the union, Tufts will be legally obligated to bargain with ULTRA.

“We are pleased that RAs had the opportunity to cast their votes and be heard on this important issue,” Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, wrote in a statement to the Daily. “Tufts is committed to bargaining in good faith and working with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 153 during negotiations in the coming year.”

RAs announced their intent to form a union on Nov. 9 in a letter to university administration requesting voluntary recognition of ULTRA. The university denied their request on Nov. 16, by which point 85% of RAs had signed union authorization cards demonstrating their support for a union.

Later that day, ULTRA filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, requesting an election of RAs to become the certified bargaining representative. An election agreement was reached between ULTRA, Tufts and the NLRB on Dec. 7.

Voting took place in the Alumnae Lounge of Aidekman Arts Center from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

Whittingham said details on how ULTRA will nominate a bargaining committee are not yet finalized, but RAs will democratically nominate and elect members. ULTRA aims to begin the bargaining process early next semester or possibly over winter break.

ULTRA’s main goal in bargaining will be to secure some form of compensation for RAs in addition to the housing fee waiver, which could come in the form of hourly wages or a meal plan. RAs also hope to negotiate for more flexibility around RA training in August and dorm closing and to clarify the contractual responsibilities of the RA position. 

Tufts RAs’ unionization effort comes amid a wave of organizing among undergraduate student workers. This past March, resident assistants at Wesleyan University became the first in the country to win voluntary recognition of an undergraduate student worker union. In November, resident assistants at Barnard College voted in an NLRB election to form a union after being denied voluntary recognition from the school. Resident assistants at both Barnard and Wesleyan are also represented by OPEIU Local 153.

“We’re looking forward to sitting at the table with Tufts next semester and continuing to operate the union in a democratic way to have everyone’s voices heard, in terms of our needs and who we want the bargaining table to represent us from the workplace,” junior Julie Francois, an RA and union organizer, said. “We’re just happy for what the future has in store for generations of RAs to come.” 

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The Tufts Daily is the entirely student-run newspaper of record at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. An editorially and financially independent organization, the Daily’s staff of more than 100 covers news, features, arts and sports on Tufts’ four campuses and in its host communities. The Daily’s editorial board and columnists provide opinions and commentary alongside op-eds submitted by readers and members of the Tufts community. In recent years, the Daily has also expanded into multimedia, including podcasts and videojournalism. Founded in 1980, the Daily publishes a print edition four days each week and a digital edition every weekday during the academic year. All of the Daily’s coverage can be found on its consistently updated website devoted to upholding its motto: “Where you read it first.”

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