The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVII, Issue 40
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
August 9, 2002

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Administration, RA union to bargain

by Daniel J. Fitzgibbons, Chronicle staff

T

he tug-of-war between the University and organizers of a resident assistant union took an unexpected turn last week as both sides announced plans to begin collective bargaining in the fall.

     In a joint statement, campus officials and the United Auto Workers Local 2322 said the pending talks will focus on the terms and conditions of employment of RAs and community development assistants. Academic and student matters will be excluded from the negotiations.

     RAs voted to unionize on March 5 and the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission certified the results of the election, but the University refused to bargain with the union and had asked the labor commission to reconsider its certification. The University's stance prompted a series of protests by pro-union supporters, including an office sit-in on April 29 that resulted in 35 arrests.

     In response, many faculty and staff, as well as other campus unions, publicly backed the RAs' bid to organize and called on University officials to accept the MLRC's recognition of the union.

     The administration's decision to bargain with the RAs is a victory for UAW Local 2322, which already represents graduate employees on campus and graduate students who teach courses through Continuing Education. The newest unit of Local 2322 includes 365 RAs and CDAs employed by Housing Services.

     In the joint statement, both sides praised the breakthrough towards negotiations.
Susan Pearson, associate provost for Faculty Relations and Budget, said, "The University will face a number of challenges in the coming months, including serious budgetary constraints and the many difficulties associated with the loss of hundreds of long-term and valued faculty and staff members who chose to participate in retirement incentive programs this year. We believe this is a time when all members of the University community need to pull together to address these challenges and when all our collective talents and energies must be devoted to that end. We are pleased with our mutual agreement to separate academic from employment issues, and we look forward to a productive bargaining relationship with the RA union."

     James A.W. Shaw, president of UAW Local 2322, said, "This is a historic day for organized labor and the UAW. Today's agreement shows that unions are appropriate for all workers, including undergraduate student workers. Unions bring democracy into the workplace, and democracy is always the right solution. We are looking forward to sitting down and bargaining a contract with the University. We are excited at this opportunity to meaningfully address the concerns of the RAs and CDAs. The UAW continues to lead the way in organizing academic employees nationally."

     Dave Synnott, who has worked as an RA for three years, said, "Today, undergraduate student workers are taking their rightful place at the table of organized labor. We are forever grateful for the support of our fellow union sisters and brothers, community members, and elected public servants. We look forward to negotiating an agreement with the University that provides fair treatment, a living wage and a voice at work for all of us."

     "I'm very happy and relieved," said Cristal Cruz, an RA who helped organize the union. "We still have a lot of work to do now. We need to form a bargaining committee and put together our proposals, but we are excited at this historic opportunity."

     Tim Scott, an organizer for UAW Local 2322, said "I'm ec-static about the agreement. I've worked with a lot of past and pre-sent RAs who've worked very hard to get to this point. They have always believed that a union would serve to make a job they are dedicated to even better."

     Ariana Sicairos, an RA and member of the union, said "This is what we've all worked on for the past two years. Now that we have their commitment to working together with the RA union, we feel we can negotiate a contract that serves the best interests of RAs across the campus."

     As part of the agreement, the administration and RA union representatives pledged to refrain from further public comments about the deal.

 
    
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