After the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that resident advisors are employees of the University and therefore have a right to vote for a union, we felt validated — and knew it was time to organize leading up to the election. Connecting with our coworkers. Calling. Texting. Engaging in conversations over lunch or coffee. Educating our co-workers about their rights, calming concerns of retaliation, or that a union could lead to a loss of benefits (rumors and false concerns perpetuated by anti-union sentiments). To unionize is our right.
We’ve done the work, and the time to vote is finally here. And it’s time to vote yes to a union—it’s the only way we’ll ever get a say in the responsibilities of the RA job and the way we’re compensated for doing it.
Each August, RAs arrive on campus over a week before New Student Orientation for RA training—seven days of in-house preparation, event planning and College House-wide seminars and training. In the evenings, after training, we’re also expected to attend additional debrief meetings, decorate our halls, design bulletin boards, prepare for resident arrival, and plan beginning of the year events. With all of these expectations, we find ourselves staying up into the late hours of the night to get everything done. During this time, RAs don’t have time to finish their summer internships and summer jobs, or otherwise dedicate time to other projects and responsibilities. Being an RA becomes a full-time job — without pay. By the time first years arrive for NSO, we’re exhausted but expected to be at our best to welcome new students, all while balancing our own lives as students.
RAs are also campus security authorities, meaning that we are mandated reporters — both inside and outside of the College Houses — of violence or crime we see or are told about on campus, as well as to report other concerns brought to us by students. Even when we’re not on duty or at our College House, we are obliged to carry out these duties. There is no off time in the job of an RA. We are essential but compensated for that nonstop job only with free living accommodations.
These are just a few of the burdens carried by RAs at Penn, immeasurable in hours and energy required of us to ensure the safety and well-being of students on this campus. Our jobs are essential to undergraduate life, but the way we’re treated and compensated in the current system without union representation doesn’t give us the proper recognition or compensation for that work.
But there’s no process to provide feedback on these conditions that are a source of frustration — like the ambiguity of some of our responsibilities as outlined in the appointment agreement, poor compensation for work, and in some cases, loss of financial aid. The only way to advocate for what we want is to form a union to represent us, to legally require Penn to give us a seat at the table in deciding the conditions of our jobs.
Here are just a few of the things we hope to advocate for in the process of renegotiating the RA contract if we win a majority vote to unionize: standardized working conditions (consistent accommodations across the houses, with private bathrooms accessible to RAs), increased say in designing trainings and in leadership within College Houses and Academic Services, a full meal plan, no impact of the RA job on financial aid packages. And most importantly, we want appropriate payment, especially to compensate for the unpaid time and labor we put in during training periods.
The reasons we want to unionize are different for all of us, but we come together around one common goal: the collective power to bargain. We deserve to bargain for a fair contract and compensation, both now and for future RAs at Penn. This union vote will not only fundamentally change our abilities as student workers to advocate for ourselves but also the future of the College House system at Penn, where the people at the heart of residential life on campus —t he event throwers, free food givers, late night listeners, shoulders to lean on — would be able to bargain for the fair pay and working conditions we deserve commensurate to the work that we do.
To RAs — vote! You can cast your ballot in the Golkin Room, located on the second floor of Houston Hall between noon and 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27 and Thursday, Sept. 28. This election is your opportunity to secure a legacy for all future RAs at Penn to have a seat at the table for deciding how they’re compensated and what it means to be an RA. Follow us @unitedrasatpenn on Instagram, feel free to DM the account with any questions and refer to this frequently asked questions document for extra information about the unionization process.
To friends and supporters — reach out to the RAs in your life. Ask how they are, how they feel about their jobs and if they feel they are supported and fairly compensated for their work. And encourage them to vote in the election in favor of the union.
Penn works because we do! Support fair compensation and working conditions for RAs! Support the union!
UNITED RAs AT PENN is a union of RAs and GRAs within the College Houses at Penn. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.