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

2024 Commencement Student Speaker: Lea Tarzy
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Excellence in Athletics Award: Meghan Quinn

Excellence in Athletics Award: Meghan Quinn

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Excellence in the Arts Award: Joselyn Busato

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When the customer becomes the employee: Understanding undergraduate unions

On April 4, 2024, Bucknell Residential Advisors (RAs), with 97% support, won a vote to unionize as a part of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153. This marked the culmination of a yearlong effort following nearly a decade of broken promises regarding increases in pay and benefits. However, it is just another undergraduate union amidst the rising tide of undergraduate RA unions, representing a direct outcome of a larger issue.

In 2012, the annual cost of attending Bucknell was $59,090. Today, it stands at $88,496. Accounting for inflation, Bucknell’s cost should be around $80,000 annually. However, the current figure exceeds this, leaving two possibilities: either the university is providing an additional $8,496 worth of value each year, or the tuition increase is to cover the overhead costs of a university with a billion-dollar endowment. This escalation in tuition occurs amid doubts about whether the University ever warranted its initial $59,090 price tag. Adding to this, in 2012, the average household income in the United States was $51,371 annually. By 2023, it had risen to $67,521. Consequently, a year at Bucknell now comprises 131% of the average household income, compared to the already staggering 115% in 2012. 

All of this number filled nonsense is to say that college and Bucknell in particular, is becoming exponentially more unaffordable for the middle and working class. And as this realization sinks in for students, jobs with unchanging compensation become less appealing as they cover a lower fraction of the total cost of attendance for the same, or increased, amount of work. One group of student workers, RAs, sought to address the dissatisfaction with their compensation and decided to unionize. RAs are doing what they can do, and advocating for a fairer wage and better benefits, hoping that the University listens this time around. 

The University’s enduring strength and power is and always will be, rooted in the fact that after four years, all the rabble rousers and activists and other such problem bringers will graduate and leave. Through enough stalling tactics and enough empty promises, the university has managed to outlast all those who challenge it. So it is even more incredible that this time, empty promises weren’t enough and the people in charge of organizing for change stayed committed. RAs were done with sudden changes in responsibility, such as having to do room checks without warning. They were done with years-long promises for meal plans. So they voted to unionize through the OPEIU Local 153. 

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This will bring the ability to negotiate their pay and benefits as well as the aspects of their job they haven’t been able to negotiate before. Hopefully, the RAs won’t be the only members of the campus community to unionize. The ten dollars an hour that students are currently forced to accept is staggeringly low compared to other universities. It is only accepted right now because there aren’t alternatives. Hopefully this first union leads to more in the years to come.

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