Tufts resident assistants, who have been rallying in demand for a stipend, have ended demonstrations for the day. RAs, students and more have been picketing since 7:30 a.m. this morning.
RAs began their protest at the Joyce Cummings Center and moved to the Residential Quad at around 10:30 a.m., where they picketed as first-year students moved into their dorms. They continued to rally into the late afternoon.
At 5 p.m., more than 100 people joined the picket line before heading to a final rally in front of West Hall. There, union leadership in addition to RAs and local city councilors spoke in support of ULTRA.
“At the bargaining table over and over and over again, they have looked me in the face, they have looked us in the face, and told us that we do not deserve to get wages,” Anisha Uppal-Sulivan, a junior RA who sits on the union’s bargaining committee, told the crowd.
Zac Bears, vice president of Medford City Council, also spoke after publicly penning a letter of support for the union’s strike effort.
“The way Tufts leadership is treating [RAs] and is treating other workers is not what Medford looks for in its neighbors,” Bears said at the rally. “Medford City Council and our colleagues in Somerville unanimously support your unionization efforts, and we support you because you’re deeply important to our communities.”
RAs will return to work tomorrow at 9 a.m., but until then, they will not be performing any of their regular duties, which include settling students into their dorms and helping those who have been locked out of their rooms.
Tufts resident assistants are striking at the Joyce Cummings Center as arriving first-year students check in.
As of 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, more than 50 people had joined the picket line. Leah Moradi, an incoming first-year, praised the strike effort.
“[RAs are] essential workers at Tufts,” she said. “I think they should stand up for what they need.”
In anticipation of the strike, Dean of Students Camille Lizarríbar notified parents and families of incoming first-years via email that RAs were preparing to picket.
“Although we appreciate the valuable role our RAs have traditionally played, we have made robust contingency plans to fully support you in the event of a strike, and our staff are well-prepared to step in and help,” she wrote.
Trent Elloyd, a parent of a first-year student, spoke with the Daily as RAs protested outside the Cummings Center.
“I think [the strike] shows that the students here are cool and demanding, and they know what they want,” she said. “I hope they’re willing to negotiate too, but I think it shows they’re independent and creative thinkers.”
Julia Divan, a senior, expressed frustration that she has not been compensated for her work as an RA.
“I’ve had to come here three weeks early, forgo wages for my other job, and we’re not compensated at all. For people like me, that’s money we need,” she said. “We put a lot of work in, and we just want to be compensated fairly.”
Negotiations have deadlocked between United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants, the union representing undergraduate RAs, and the university. Although ULTRA and Tufts have been at the bargaining table since February, the university has rejected RAs’ demands for a stipend, one of ULTRA’s requests from the beginning.
The university has countered by offering meal swipes in addition to the free housing RAs currently receive; but the union says that offer is unacceptable, as cash stipends lend more flexibility than meal plans.
Joel Omolade, an RA at this morning’s picket line, says that the stipend demand is more than fair.
“We’re talking about a multibillion dollar institution,” Omolade, a junior, said. “They’ve increased tuition size, increased their class size [and] they have the money. So it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You don’t have to just get room, board and meal swipes or [a stipend]. I think both can exist.”
In a statement to the Daily, Kalimah Redd Knight, senior deputy director of media relations, said the university’s current offer “both aligns with our values as an institution and is in line with best practices and industry standards across higher education.”
RAs voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike last week, culminating in today’s demonstration. While they are on strike, RAs are not performing any of their usual move-in day duties, which include checking new students in and settling them into dorms.
AJ Guevara, a three-time freshman dorm RA, said if the university does not respond with a stipend in their next bargaining session, the union may initiate another strike.
“We do not want to be striking — we want to be helping our residents. … Move-in is such an important day that it should not be robbed from the first years,” Guevara, a senior, said.
Tufts had prepared for the possibility of a strike, according to Redd Knight.
“Although we appreciate the valuable role our RAs have traditionally played, we have made robust contingency plans to fully support our students in the event of a strike and our staff are well-prepared to step in and help,” she wrote.
RAs will return to work tomorrow, Matriculation day, as orientation begins, and another bargaining session between ULTRA and Tufts is slated for 1 p.m. on Thursday.
Chloe Courtney Bohl contributed reporting to this article.