The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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Bucknell responds to request for RA Union, election to be held next week

Bucknell responds to request for RA Union, election to be held next week

After receiving a petition signed by 77% of Bucknell RAs requesting the University recognize their formation of a union with Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 on March 4, Bucknell denied to voluntarily recognize the union, but did not dispute the students’ right to vote to form a union. As such, on March 12, Bucknell and an OPEIU representative agreed to schedule an RA election that will take place on April 4.

The election will be held in Trout Auditorium from 4 to 8 p.m., and will be open to all students who are currently serving as RAs on campus. Students who will be first-time RAs starting in the next academic year are not eligible to vote. In order for the union to be certified, 50%+1 of RAs who participate in the election process must vote yes. 

If the union is certified, the next step is collective bargaining. The current Organizing Committee and the OPEIU Local 153 representative would send out a contract priorities survey to ask RAs what they would like to see changed about the RA role. The RAs will then elect a Bargaining Committee of between 10-12 current RAs who then come together to draft proposals and policies based on the survey responses to decide what it means to be an RA at Bucknell.

These proposals would then be shared with the entire RA membership, who will have a chance to give feedback before the proposals are brought to collective bargaining sessions between Bucknell and the union, which all RAs are welcome to attend. Negotiations will then be a lengthy process, with expectations of time period ranging from a few months to over a year. Once contracts have been negotiated, the membership has to win a majority-vote to ratify them.

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“It’s not a fast process, so even if one votes in the affirmative to start a union, it’s not like it happens the very next day,” Interim Dean of Students Teresa McKinney stated. “It can take a lot of months for that to happen; it can take maybe a year for that to happen because you have to have that bargaining agreement to decide what’s going to be the compensation, what are going to be the duties, so that’s going to take a lot of time.” 

Bucknell staff, including legal council, Marketing and Communications, the Interim Dean of Students and others, compiled a document with Frequently Asked Questions about the union process and what it would mean for Bucknell. Though this webpage is available to all students through myBucknell, it was only directly shared with the Bucknell Student Government Executive Committee and the Undergraduate Executive Interns. 

In addition to the information provided through the FAQs, the webpage begins with a statement describing Bucknell’s position on the unionization of RAs.

One concern that the University expressed was that “establishing an RA union would change this student-focused experience to one of ‘employment’ subject to contract terms and union oversight. A union would alter Bucknell’s relationship with RAs in a way that Bucknell does not believe will be positive for the RAs or the RA program.” 

Additionally, the statement noted that certifying a union would then require all RAs to pay dues to the OPEIU, and that “the only option for students who object to the union or its positions will be to resign from their position as an RA, which could have significant financial consequences for some.”

OPEIU Local 153 has stated that their dues would be $39.50 per month, deducted directly from stipends; however, OPEIU Local 153 has been successful in negotiating raises of around $3-6,000 dollars per year in either stipends or other compensation (housing, meal plans) at other universities and would expect similar results here. 

The statement also includes the argument that the RA union would put future students in the position of having to accept being in the union to receive the benefit of free housing. Bucknell also stated that strikes are possible in the collective bargaining process, and that in the case of a strike, “Bucknell would not be obligated to finance the strike by continuing to ‘pay’ striking RAs”. 

At a Chat & Chew event hosted by the Interim Deans of Students, intended for students to be able to discuss their experiences and ideas for campus improvements with Student Affairs staff, students asked about this document and the current state of the RA Union. 

About the FAQs, Jane Grassadonia, Associate Dean of Students for Living, Learning and Leadership, stated: “that is not a ‘we don’t want you to…’, we are sharing our feelings and perspective about how we think this will alter–fundamentally–the staff.” 

Bucknell Student Government President Thandeka Bango also asked the Student Affairs staff present about, since Bucknell does not seem to be in favor of the union, whether conversations were currently happening with RAs to understand the root of their dissatisfaction with the current RA role that the unionization effort signifies. 

“There was a lot of [Lead RA] conversation around how we can improve that experience and what we can offer before [the petition announcement] happened,” responded McKinney. “Because we need to wait on [the union decision], we will just re-evaluate that if we won’t do collective bargaining. We can’t make a decision and move forward with what we were going to do until we figure out if the union will have to have us go to collective bargaining for duties, compensation…You have to remain status quo until after the vote.”

McKinney later added, “I think the people who were writing [the FAQs] have not heard any of the [RA-related] concerns. I wasn’t here, so I didn’t hear those concerns. I know Michael Melnyk hadn’t heard any of the concerns, several other people that I talked to hadn’t heard any of those concerns. But I’ve been here for two months, so obviously if this happened beforehand or for a very long period of time we wouldn’t have had that information before we were told that there was a petition.” 

The Student Affairs staff present at the Chat & Chew continued to answer more clarifying questions about the RA election, encouraged students to read the FAQs document, and for those students eligible to vote, suggested that they think carefully about the stakes of their decision. 

Voting begins and ends on April 4th, and vote tallying will begin immediately afterwards to determine whether the RA union will be certified. 

“Bucknell doesn’t want any students to have power on campus,” said Bryce Merry, a current RA. “They are more than happy with the status quo of paying people $10 an hour to do their jobs, or not paying them anything more than housing in the case of RAs, and keeping us very underpaid and undervalued. Trying to change that is a priority for me, and I think it should be a priority for every student on campus so that we are paid fairly, especially with increasing tuition hikes year after year.”

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