Posted September 26, 2017 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Resident Assistants on Strike

Resident Assistants Fighting for Tomorrow Ends in Mass Firing

By Mason Soto

At the end of the Spring 2017 quarter, a group of Resident Assistants (RAs) went on ‘strike’ after giving a list of demands to campus administration to address what their press release called “inequities, injustices, and clear discrimination” from Resident and Dining (RAD) Services management and the administration at large. By mid-June the strike had ended unsuccessfully, with the remaining strikers fired and made to leave their campus homes.

By mid-June the strike had ended unsuccessfully, with the remaining strikers fired and made to leave their campus homes.

This marked the second RA D Services strike in the past four years, after the one-day strike by Student Support Services Staff Union in May 2013, where the union demanded they be given fair compensation for overtime and the same employment security other campus unions already have.

Unlike the 203 strike, however, the strike by the RAFT group was not associated with a union, nor was it for the express purpose of establishing a union.

After the series of demonstrations on campus this spring, including student protests, rallies, and the Costantino Recreation Center worker strike in solidarity with student activism, many RAs felt that the time to address a history of inequities within their workplace had come. On May 24 the group of strikers, operating under the name Resident Assistants Fighting for Tomorrow (RAFT) presented to the Resident Directors (RDs) a list of demands that respond to a plethora of issues within the staff and administration including police involvement with RAD Services, accessibility to Student Wellness Services, as well as income and working conditions for the staff.

In an interview for this article, a RAFT member explained some of the pay disparity issues that came up in conversations between co-workers. One member was not given the stipends other RAs received because of negotiations with management about holding multiple campus jobs, yet while being paid less, they were doing the same work as the rest of the staff. Another member who took on extra responsibilities while Resident Services was understaffed during spring quarter was not appropriately compensated.  Both of these members are people of color, raising concerns for RAFT about racism and the amount of labor that gets left to marginalized folks.

Accountability measures and hiring practices outlined in the demands express those same concerns, calling for prioritization of marginalized people, continuous caucusing around issues of race and gender, and more sensitivity training for staff. As an example of situations where sensitivity is lacking, a black RAFT member cited a racially tense conversation they had with a white RA that white RDs witnessed, yet did not offer support. Other demands focus on gaps in Resident care, including around the clock access to support services and the addition of counseling offices to lower campus.

By the evening of May 26, after a negotiated deadline for a response was not met by the administration, the strike began. In email responses to the demands, RAFT members believe the faculty attempted to “strong-arm” the protesters out of the strike and into a position with no bargaining power, downplaying the demands as mere suggestions. Strikers felt the administration used this same tactic regarding other campus activism, and they did not back down.

A meeting was held on May 30 between RAFT representatives and campus administration, where issues were discussed but no measures were agreed upon. A statement from Sharon Goodman, Director of RAD, called the meeting “an opportunity to listen to and understand the concerns” of RAFT. The second planned meeting was postponed due to an escalation of other campus activism and violent opposition from national media and far right groups that climaxed in a Patriot Prayer rally in Red Square and online doxxing of multiple student activists.

As a result, some RAFT members were informed it could be potentially dangerous to remain on campus and left the area, while others returned to work fearing a loss of income. An email sent on June 7 that confirmed the termination of one RA striker showed no mention of the strike, nor the extenuating circumstances on campus, but rather only cited the work absences themselves. Those fired were given only forty-eight hours from the time the termination email was sent to vacate their campus homes, and their meal plans were immediately cancelled.

In a final meeting on June 13, the remaining RAFT representatives met with administration once more. Goodman said that after the discussions RAD leadership is “committed to continuous improvement of the Residence Life student employment program” including “increased training”, and “clarifying job expectations and compensation”. Some RAFT members are unimpressed and say they have seen this pattern before: “It’s frustrating that the administration keep saying good words without doing the work to make support actually happen.”