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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, April 23, 2024

RA union ratifies first contract with university

Two-thirds of resident assistants agreed to sign the collective bargaining agreement, which includes a stipend and meal swipes.

Resident assistants picket in front of the Joyce Cummings Center on Aug. 29.

Resident assistants picket in front of the Joyce Cummings Center on Aug. 29.

The United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants voted to sign a union contract in agreement with Tufts University on Sept. 25. The contract signing ends a seven-month-long effort that included an organized strike to earn benefits and union representation for the university’s 141 RAs.

On Sunday and Monday, 99 RAs, represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, cast their ballots. 95 RAs voted in favor, while four voted against signing the contract.

Under their inaugural contract, RAs will receive 80 meal swipes and a $1,425 stipend per semester worked. RAs are also no longer considered at-will employees, meaning they now require just cause to be fired by the university.

“We’re pleased to have reached agreement on a three-year contract with the RAs,” Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations at Tufts University, said. “Our provision of free housing, an annual stipend of $2,850, and 160 free meals a year, as well as other meaningful measures, is generous and fair. With the union’s ratification of the contract complete, we’re looking forward to working productively with the union as we move ahead implementing the new contract terms.”

Senior David Whittingham, an RA for two consecutive years, has worked on the union’s bargaining committee since their first negotiation meeting with the university in February 2023. He voted to accept the contract.

“I think we did what we needed to do and we were successful,” Whittingham said. “You never get everything you ask for, but I think that in the end … we won.”

According to Whittingham, 70% of Tufts RAs are on financial aid and 70% have to work one or more additional jobs during the academic year.

“This sort of payment will allow people, if they want, to hopefully cut back on the work that they have to do and be able to spend more time on their academics or on other things in their lives,” Whittingham said. “So to me, that’s the biggest thing that I’m happy we got.”

The contract also limits an RA’s number of residents on their floor to 50, including a maximum of 30 first-years. RAs will also not have to move into campus more than eight days prior to when first-year students move in.

“We’re important mentors to our students,” Whittingham said. “We’re there to help guide them, especially for the first-years, through their first year of college … Having the extra compensation will allow people to not have other commitments; I think that makes people be able to be more available to the residents.”

During contract negotiations, ULTRA organized and executed a workers’ strike during first-year student move-in day on Aug. 29.

“I think it made a difference,” Whittingham said. “[Tufts] had been refusing since May to put the stipend into the compensation package, and then they were willing to move on that afterwards.”

Senior Daphne Garcia is excited about the new contract. She is serving as a first-year RA for the third time and attended two bargaining sessions.

“I was never really expecting much,” Garcia said. “I was expecting maybe around $1000 … Once they were able to offer us more than $1300, I was happy with that. I mean, these are going to go directly to my [student] loans.”

ULTRA’s contract is set to expire in Aug. 2026.

“I think it's a good amount to receive now,” Garcia said. “I hope that future [RAs] can definitely ask for more money.”

Garcia said that she has saved almost $30,000 in housing costs by becoming an RA. She says this money “is huge for her family,” and that, while she receives financial aid, the stipend “is not enough.”

“There’ll always be a certain degree of tension or opposition,” Whittingham said. “They spoke at the bargaining table about how they want a positive relationship, they want there to be trust, things like that. But I think my only thing would be that trust has to be earned. And so if they hold up their end of the bargain, so to speak, I think we’re happy to as well.”