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News ::
UMass-Amherst resident assistants fight union-busting
07 May 2002
Modified: 08 May 2002
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is trying to bust a union recently voted in by the resident assistants there-the first undergraduate union in the U.S. The R.A.'s urgently need support before the semester's out. Read here for more information and how you can help.
UMass-Amherst resident assistants fight union-bustingBy Bryan G. Pfeifer

In what is shaping up to be an epic battle, resident assistant undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst continue to fight with their bodies and voices against a belligerent administration intent on busting their new union.

With the administration fighting them all the way for over 18-months, on March 5, the R.A.’s voted by a two-thirds majority to join the United Auto Workers Local 2322. The 365 R.A.’s, the first body of undergraduates to unionize in the U.S., are paid to live in the dormitories to enforce rules, counsel new students and organize educational and social events.

The students receive a tuition waiver of up to $5,000 annually and about a $50 stipend per-week. Students say they often work more than 20 hours, are constantly on call, paid a pittance and are required to stay in their dormitories at times such as major sporting events where major parties put them at risk.

A year ago, UMass opposed the student petition for an election based on administration claims that students aren’t employees, but the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission voted in January that students could vote on joining a union.

The commission also certified the R.A. UAW vote but in what many see as a clear union-busting move, the administration arrogantly refused to recognize the union March 26.

“The administration is quite adamant on this,” said Kay Scanlan, assistant vice chancellor for communication and marketing. “They will not bargain on this issue.”
In response, the UAW filed unfair labor practices with the labor commission which are pending. The university has retained a union-busting law firm.

With major support from the UAW and the 3,000-member Graduate Employee Organization at Amherst, the R.A.’s initiated a series of actions to pressure the university to recognize the union and gain wider labor and community support.

In the most militant action to date, on April 29, 35 students and union activists were arrested at Amherst after staging a protest sit-in and occupation of the Whitmore Administration Building-office of the vice chancellor for student affairs. This was the first mass arrest at Amherst in a decade. Those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespassing.

Undergraduates who participated in the April 29 protest were initially suspended from campus after being arrested and seniors were told they wouldn’t be allowed to graduate among other outrageous measures. These measures were later lifted, but students still face possible loss of this semester’s credits. R.A.’s who were arrested will continue to live in dormitories, although their employment was suspended. Among other things, the administration claims the students violated the universities so-called Picketing Code, enacted after the 1997 Goodell Building takeover, which bars picketing and building occupations on campus.

On May 6 a follow-up demonstration of about 300 was held at Amherst with the demands: Drop the criminal charges, end the disciplinary action, and obey the law and bargain. Other actions are planned.

R.A. supporters include various Massachusetts union locals such as AFSCME, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the National Education Association, and the state SEIU and labor support organizations like the Pioneer Valley Labor Council and Boston’s Labor ANSWER.

The Amherst Town Council has passed a resolution in favor of the R.A.’s and Amherst Labor Studies Director Tom Juravich and 28 other faculty and elected officials initiated a petition in support of the R.A.’s which forced Chancellor Marcellete G. Williams to schedule a meeting with them May 8.

According to the Worchester Telegram, the five-campus UMass system is struggling with $28.5 million in state budget cuts. The Amherst campus, which is losing about $17 million, is cutting seven varsity sports, raising student fees, laying off 95 workers, cutting academic programs by six percent and phasing out jobs. About 400 employees have filed for early retirement, including about 100 professors.

With the university in this position it might seem odd that they are trying to crush the R.A. union by spending possibly millions of dollars fighting it. But Benjamin Balthaser, GEO organizer and English graduate student, says it makes perfect sense for the administration and its allies.

“Academic capitalism-this is where the administrators are going right now and they don’t want to be challenged.”

With an explosion in GEO’s on public universities from about five in 1991 to over 40 and growing today, administrations view a parallel undergraduate union movement as “incredibly threatening,” claims Balthaser not only because of profit motives but because student unions build off-campus unity with labor and community organizations and provide a strong base to fight issues like university privatization.

The university, besides attacking and intimidating the R.A.’s and their supporters, is relying on the struggle to subside as summer sets in. It is imperative for the future of the labor movement that the Amherst R.A.’s be supported at this critical time.

The R.A.’s are asking supporters to fax letters to Amherst President William Bulger at (617) 287-7044 or call (617) 287-7044 or email Chancellor Marcellette G. Williams at
mwilliams (at), phone: (413) 259-1872; fax: (413) 545-2328. For more information see: or
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Labor's ANSWER
08 May 2002
I saw that Labor's ANSWER is listed as an endorser... Isn't Labor's ANSWER a "front group" for the Workers World party, the infamous secretive authoritarian cadre which attempts to coopt and control any currently popular progressive movement? Damn... watch out, read up