Resident Assistant Union Information
Tufts Student Affairs and Residential Life and Learning are committed to creating a dynamic, respectful and kind community that prepares students to live in a complex and diverse world with dignity and purpose. By giving students the opportunity to learn how to navigate complexity, risk learning from difficult situations, and make challenging decisions, we inspire them to fearlessly discover new things about themselves, others and the world around them every day.
As a community, we share certain core values:
- Curious, creative, and contributing Citizens of the World
- Anti-Racist in words and action; embracing Tufts’ DEIJ programs and approach
- Responsible Community Members … sharing experiences that develop empathy, connection, and respect for each other
- Committed to Social and Restorative Justice
The Resident Assistant Union Election
The Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local 153 has filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to represent Tufts Resident Assistant Students (RAs) for purposes of collective bargaining with the University. We have created this website to provide students eligible to vote with the facts they will need to make an informed decision. The election will take place on Wednesday, December 14 from noon to 3 p.m. in Alumnae Lounge, Aidekman Arts Center. These FAQs may be updated periodically. We strongly encourage all eligible RAs to vote so that everyone’s wishes are considered in this important decision.
The Current Situation
The Office and Professional Employees International Union has filed a Petition seeking to represent all RAs employed by Tufts. The bargaining unit is defined as follows:
Included: All undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in a degree program in the Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences and/or Engineering, and who are currently appointed to and serving in an academic year appointment as Resident Assistants in University Housing for students in the Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences and/or Engineering.
Excluded: All non-student employees, confidential employees, guards, and professional employees and supervisors as defined by the Act.
Quite simply, the ballot in this election will call for a yes or no answer to the question of whether you (as an eligible RA voter) wish to be exclusively represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union for purposes of collective bargaining with the university. In other words, would you rather negotiate issues of compensation, hours, and working conditions individually, independently, and directly yourself with your supervisor or delegate that responsibility exclusively to union representatives for the foreseeable future?
Yes. As part of the petition process, the union was required to demonstrate to the National Labor Relations Board that at least 30 percent of the bargaining unit were interested in its representation. The union met this requirement by collecting cards from bargaining unit members and presenting them to the NLRB. Likely the union asked you to sign a card expressing an interest in being represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union so that the union could petition the NLRB for an election.
Signing or declining the card is not the same as voting for or against the union. Only the vote that you cast in the election will determine whether the union will be elected as the RAs representative.
Please note that if you signed a card in support of the petition, you are not obligated to vote for the union in the resulting election. You can change your mind. Regardless of whether you will vote for or against the union – we urge you to vote
Yes. Elections under the National Labor Relations Act are secret ballot votes. This means that neither the university nor the union would know how you voted. You are encouraged to take steps to maintain the privacy of your voting process – you are not required to disclose your vote to the union, the university, fellow students, or others beside the NLRB.
The outcome will be determined by a majority of those who vote, just like any political election. If only 20 people vote, and 11 vote for the union, the union would be voted in. As a result, all RAs in the bargaining unit would be bound by the election results for years to come, and would be exclusively represented by the union. That is why you should vote. Voting by all members of the bargaining unit is strongly encouraged and critical to accurately representing the position of all students in the proposed bargaining unit
No. The results of any election would be binding to everyone in the bargaining unit, including students who do not vote, students who vote "no," and all future students who won't have an opportunity to vote. We strongly encourage all eligible students to vote.
Your status as an international student does not affect your ability to vote or to be a member of the union.
No. There is no contract to review at this point. Eligible students must first vote on whether they want to be represented by a union. If a majority of these students vote in favor of a union, then, and only then, would the union and Tufts University begin the collective bargaining process to develop a contract that will apply to the students in the bargaining unit. Negotiations for a first contract typically take a year or so to conclude. Once a contract is negotiated, union members will have the opportunity to vote to accept or reject that contract but they would not be able to object to any particular clauses or articles.
Express yourself! The law protects everyone's right to express their opinion for or against unionization. During the pre-election period, the union and its supporters will be campaigning on campus to educate students about the union and encourage students to vote for the union. During this period, the university is also entitled to campaign and to express its views about the RA unionization while at the same time providing educational materials about the impact of unionization on the future RA experience. Similarly, students who oppose the union can also speak to other students to express their opinion about the impact of the union on the Tufts academic environment and to urge students to vote against the union.
If you oppose unionization, the most important thing you can do is to vote. The university strongly encourages all eligible voters to vote!
Please note that Tufts prohibits retaliation against any person for their involvement in or their choice to refrain from participation in union activity. If you have concerns about retaliation or other treatment based on your position on this issue, please contact Christina Alch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have the right to express your opinion and to campaign for or against a union free from coercion by either the organizing union or the university. You have the right to ask questions of both union representatives and university officials and become informed as to all the issues. You have the right to vote in secret when an election is held.
Tufts University will not discriminate or retaliate against any RA because of their views for or against unionization
The university, by law, is free to campaign against the union and to express its views on the election. By law, however, the university cannot make any promises to improve working conditions or grant benefits or policy changes to have RAs vote against unionization, nor can it threaten to take away any current benefits to secure votes against the union.
Accordingly, leading up to the election, the university cannot make any promises to increase stipends or otherwise change working conditions or benefits. On the other hand, administrators are free to express their opinion about the election and on unions and to provide information about unions and collective bargaining and what it means.
However, the union is not under the same restrictions regarding making promises. The union is free to promise voters anything in an effort to win their votes. The following is a quote from the National Labor Relations Board as part of its decision on a case: "Unions can promise wage increases, better benefits and protecting what you now have during an election campaign, even though they have no actual power to guarantee those things, because those promises are considered mere "pre-election propaganda."
—Shirlington Supermarket, Inc., 106 NLRB 666 (1953).
Reasons you might want to remain independent
We very much value your input, advocacy, and partnership in exploring ways to improve working conditions and even the core responsibilities for students serving as RAs. We would like to continue to work directly with you on shaping these roles as the pandemic subsides and new leadership within Residential Life is just settling in.
We have worked closely with RAs for decades and worked collaboratively to implement continuous improvements. For example, we recently made the following enhancements:
- Introduction of an RA Council where RAs are invited to provide feedback on processes and their responsibilities.
- Increased the number of RAs, which reduced the number of residents each RA is responsible for and lowered the number of duty shifts an RA is responsible for.
- Hired full-time professional staff to supervise RAs to provide a higher level of support.
- Created regular recognition efforts, including:
- Fall semester celebration
- End of year banquet
- Shining moments initiative and Of The Month awards
- Programming for RAs such as Fall Festival
- Decreased amount of days and time in training.
- Removed all late night training responsibilities from training schedule.
- Reworked on call system to decrease on call hours.
- Created secondary on call system to directly address safety and behavioral intervention concerns, making community walks and addressing incidents easier for RAs.
- Provided duty bags with resources for COVID-19 safety, personal safety.
- Added second RA resource room to assist with hall decoration and programming efforts.
- Increased staff support and connection with Counseling and Mental Health Services by developing CMHS liaison program so that staffs have direct connection to a counselor to process incidents or concerns.
- Increased DEIJ training for RA staff by increasing number of sessions, dialogues, and resources for staff to best prepare them for bias incidents and resident concerns.
If the union is voted in, all of the rewards and responsibilities of being an RA will become subject to the collective bargaining process with the union representatives. That process would shape the future roles of RAs.
During a union campaign, the university, like other employers, is restricted from certain conduct. During a campaign, the university is basically required to maintain the "status quo," and cannot engage in any new changes to the terms and conditions of employment of bargaining unit members. To do so just before an election would call into question an employer's motive
The university has a number of unions on campus and prides itself on the relationships it has and continues to cultivate with each one. Each of the members of the existing bargaining units are and have always been in a traditional employer-employee relationship with the university. A potential Resident Assistant Student unit is fundamentally different because, historically, the relationship between students and the university has always been primarily about education and academic pursuits.
Only since August 2016 has the NLRB allowed student workers to unionize. For many years before that, the Board held that such individuals were primarily students and not eligible to unionize under federal law. There remains considerable controversy about that decision.
We do not think that unionization serves the university or you as an individual student and have serious concerns that recasting our long-term academic relationship with our students into a traditional employer-employee relationship through a union relationship is harmful to the educational mission and goals of our educational programs. Nonetheless, we understand that you may have legitimate concerns and issues regarding the RA role and the related duties. We prefer to be able to work with you directly and not through a third-party organization on these issues.
If the union is voted in, by law the union would become your exclusive agent for all aspects of compensation, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The university would no longer be able to work with you directly, or through any other body or committee, on such topics unless authorized by the union or by the collective bargaining agreement. Once a union has been elected, it becomes illegal for management to bargain individually with you and negotiate individual solutions with them, with the exception of certain grievances. The actual language of the National Labor Relations Act can be found on the NLRB website [Section 9 (a) deals with exclusive representation.]
Yes. If the union is not voted in, resident assistants can seek to unionize again in the future. There is a one-year waiting period after an election until another election can be held. The same union or a different union could seek an election one year later.
Impact on current and future RAs if the union is voted in
If the union is not voted in, the university would be able to continue to work together with you directly on matters relating to any compensation, hours, and working conditions. If the union is voted in, the union would become the exclusive representative of Resident Assistants Students on matters related to pay, benefits, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Tufts University would no longer be able to work with its RAs directly, or directly through any other body or committee such as the Resident Assistant Students’ Council, on such topics unless authorized by the union or by the collective bargaining agreement.
The National Labor Relations Act requires that, if a union wins an election and is certified, both sides negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach a collective bargaining agreement on all matters involving topics such as compensation, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Good faith bargaining means the mutual obligation of labor and management to meet at reasonable times and places in an effort to reach an agreement. But the law does not mandate that any specific proposal go into a collective bargaining agreement nor is either side required to make any particular concession or agree to any particular proposal.
Either side can make proposals to the other in such negotiations, and bargaining does not necessarily begin with the current level of compensation, benefits, or working conditions. Thus, either side may propose changes on compensation, benefits, job expectations, or other mandatory subjects of collective bargaining. There are no guarantees and, of course, the university's resources are limited and challenged by multiple competing priorities including financial aid, efforts to keep tuition down, facilities and other updates and improvement, among many others.
Tufts University works to achieve a constructive relationship with the unions that represent some of its employees; however, collective bargaining can be a lengthy, challenging and even at times an adversarial process, with major disputes about what should go into a collective bargaining agreement
That's a question for the union. We assume that the union would determine who would serve on the union bargaining team. Typically, union bargaining teams include at least one union official and members of the bargaining unit, but every union conducts its business differently in this regard.
There are no time limit requirements for the collective bargaining process, but usually first contracts take a year or more from the affirmative vote to negotiate. For example, at Tufts, the Service Employees’ International Union, Local 209 organized a specific unit of PhD students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2015, and it took a little under a year to conclude that first contract.
If the parties fail to reach agreement, a mediator may be called in to assist in negotiations if both parties agree to do this. However, no third party resolves negotiation disputes in the private sector, and the parties are free to use traditional pressure tactics to force agreement. The most common such tactic is the union's right to call a strike.
No. Once voted in, unions are not subject to reelection. That is why the decision to unionize is so consequential for both current and future students. Typically, an elected union remains the exclusive bargaining agent for employees unless the union is formally "decertified" and/or a different union is elected under NLRB rules. The NLRB process for decertifying a union is complex and time consuming.
For example, a union cannot be decertified for at least one year after certification. After that, if a collective bargaining agreement is in effect, a decertification petition can only be filed between the 60th and 90th day before the contract expires. Thus, if there is a three-year contract, the union could not be decertified during most of the time the contract is in effect.
No. If RAs voting in this election vote for the union, the union will represent any and all future RAs who fall into the bargaining unit regardless of their views on the representation. While future classes may choose to organize to decertify the union at some point, this is a lengthy and complex process which few unionized employees take for those reasons.
Information for RA candidates
A union is a group of employees who come together to advance matters of common interest in the workplace such as compensation and other terms and conditions of employment such as work duties, schedules and the like. While union membership can include a number of different rights and responsibilities, as described in more details in these FAQs, it generally means that a third party independent from the employer (in this case, the Office and Professional Employees International Union) represents the interests of a collective group of employees in their relationship with the employer. Said differently, unionization changes the relationship between the employee and the employer from being able to deal directly with each other to including a union as a third party representative for the employees with the employer.
We don’t know. If the union is voted in by the RAs and as described above, the terms and conditions of employment may change through bargaining. While we do not anticipate that your actual selection will be impacted, it is unclear. The job and the compensation for the job may change depending on any negotiations. If the union is not voted in, the RA position will be described to you in relevant documentation. If you have questions about the compensation and/or terms and conditions of employment, we can discuss them with you and if you have feedback, concerns or other ideas for us to consider, you can discuss them and negotiate them directly with us.
It is certainly possible but we don’t really know right now. As described further in these FAQs, the negotiations process is robust and can be lengthy. The outcome of the negotiations is not predetermined or guaranteed.
Not immediately but it is likely you would have to do so as part of a union contract. Federal labor law allows unions to propose in collective bargaining that members of the bargaining unit either become dues-paying union members or pay the union a similar fee. If such a clause was negotiated into the contract, RAs who are part of the bargaining unit would be required to pay union dues or fees.
Most unions seek "union shop" provisions to ensure cash flow into the organization, and, as they often put it, to require a "fair share" from everyone they represent. The Office and Professional Employees International Union includes these provisions in a number of its collective bargaining agreements covering other units it represents.
The Office and Professional Employees International Union told the Tufts Daily that if the RAs unionized, the dues for the unit would be $270 per year and that it would bargain for wages with Tufts in any collective bargaining agreement to cover the dues requirements. However, there are no promises or guarantees about what may ultimately make it into a contract. In addition, those who disagree with the union, voted against it, or who over time feel it is unnecessary cannot opt out.
Depending on the contract in force, failure to pay dues could result in dismissal from an appointment. However, you may be able to continue in your academic program at Tufts. This is a negotiable item, but most unions insist on such a clause in the collective bargaining agreement to ensure payment of dues and/or fees. However, you may be able to continue in your academic program at Tufts.
There may be a number of implications based on the negotiated contract but one major aspect of an employee’s compensation is that it is taxable at state and federal levels.
We do not know. That depends on the bargaining process. As a collective bargaining unit, RAs are considered as a group for collective bargaining. The union negotiates for the group and for the group's interests—not those of specific individuals. It is possible that the union might propose, and the university might agree, to special provisions for certain groups of RAs; however, such provisions are not common and would have to be agreed to at the bargaining table.
Yes. Collective bargaining is just that, collective. The union would represent all RAs determined to be in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in whatever contract they negotiate will apply to all. Once ratified by the union membership, the contract applies with equal force to everyone in the unit.
Hours of work could be a subject of bargaining, and provisions might be put in the collective bargaining agreement dealing with hours of work.
How can I learn more?
For additional information, please see:
National Labor Relations Board: https://www.nlrb.gov/
National Labor Relations Act: http://www.nlrb.gov/resources/national-labor-relations-act