October 25, 2014

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

RAs not paid minimum wage; demand fair contract now

Editor’s note: The writers are Resident Assistants.

To the Editor:

Resident Assistants (RAs) are important to the success of our on-campus students, especially freshmen and first-year students. RAs are educators, attempting to inform and empower students to make responsible decisions. They are counselors, programmers and community leaders, and often the first responders to a residence hall crisis. It’s this level of responsibility that RAs tackle that makes people in the University of Massachusetts community agree that they should receive fair payment for the vital job they perform. Unfortunately, the University administration does not agree.

In 2002, the RAs of UMass unionized, becoming the first group of RAs in the country to do so. However, this was accomplished only after a series of battles with the University, including a protest at the UMass President’s office in Boston and the arrest of over 30 students and community members during a protest at the Whitmore Administration Building.

Although RAs are now recognized as union workers, the administration refuses to grant RAs basic union rights, such as minimum wage and just cause. Bargaining on the current contract has been ongoing for the last year and a half, and the administration refuses to address the issues.

RAs are contracted for 20 hours per week, and receive bi-weekly paychecks of approximately $170. These paychecks state that RAs work eight hours per week at approximately $11 an hour. However, RAs are contracted to work 40 hours in those two weeks. The resulting hourly wage is closer to $4.50 per hour, way below Massachusetts’ $8.00 minimum wage. Frequently, RAs work more hours than the 20 for which they are contracted, and far more than the eight for which they are paid.

So how does the administration get away with it? One of the reasons is that RAs are granted a room waiver as part of their payment. However, RAs are required to live in the residence halls, making it a place of work. If at any time a resident knocks on an RA’s door, the RA must respond. RAs are required to keep their door open when in their room on duty and are encouraged to talk to residents in their room. Housing legally should not factor into payment as the RAs room functions both as private and professional space.

Furthermore, even if housing were to factor into payment, the University cannot deduct more than $35 per week per room, according to Massachusetts labor laws. The University grants RAs $2,781.50 for a room waiver per semester. RAs are on campus 17 weeks per semester, or $163.67 per week, far exceeding the $35 per week standard.

Just cause, which protects workers from unfair termination, is overwhelmingly standard in union contracts, and is very rarely negotiated. Every other union contract on campus contains just cause. For RAs, termination means not only loss of work, it also means loss of housing. And in this economic climate, coupled with the high cost of higher education, termination could mean loss of an education.

The UMass administration’s refusal to bargain in good faith is extremely concerning, especially given the basic and fundamental nature of these demands. However, the University and the RA union are meeting with a state mediator on Wednesday. The possibilities of a settlement seem close. The administration needs to sign a contract that the union deserves: a fair contract.

 

Chris Hoel, Frank Jackson and Annie Mombourquette

Comments
24 Responses to “RAs not paid minimum wage; demand fair contract now”
  1. Retired says:

    Let’s use your numbers. And lets assume instead of getting free housing (which includes heat, water, electricity, cable, and internet btw) that you just get reimbursed with a paycheck.

    Take $2,781.50, and divide by 17 weeks, and then divide by to 20 hours a week you are required. That is $8.18/ hour. More than minimum wage by 18 cents. Lets add in the $4.50/hour you get paid in a paycyheck. That’s now $4.68 cents more than minimum wage. The law you reference states:

    (1) Deductions from Basic Minimum Wage. No deduction, other than those required by law and those allowed for lodging and meals listed in 455 CMR 2.04(1)(a) and (b) of this section, shall be made from the basic minimum wage.

    (a) Deductions for Lodging. An employer, including an employer of seasonal and temporary help, may deduct from the basic minimum wage of an employee a sum per week as set forth in 455 CMR 2.04(1)(a)1. through 3. when adequate, decent and sanitary lodging, including heat, potable water, and light are furnished. A deduction for lodging is not permitted unless the room is actually used by the employee and unless said employee desires said room. Deductions shall not exceed the following rates.
    1. A sum not exceeding $35.00 per week for a room occupied by one person.

    But you’re actually making more than minimum wage by getting free housing and utilities, right? So this doesn’t exactly apply, especially since it’s not as if the employer is trying to make you an indentured servant by taking all of your paycheck and calling it rent. Students are actually paying you to get free cable and internet.

    That knocks out that huge flaw in your argument.

    I’m a former RA.

    I worked with a girl who threw a birthday party for herself, got asked by her fellow RAs about 3 or 4 times to knock off the loud music at 2am, and then got written up because her neighbors kept complaining.

    I worked with a guy who would smoke weed in his room and not answer the door when we’d come around and ask him to knock it off time after time. Then he posted on our cluster website that women weren’t required to knock to get entry to his room.

    Guess how many of those people ran to the union when they got in trouble?
    Guess how many got to keep their jobs?
    Both, in both cases.

    Knocks out a second huge flaw, that you folks can get terminated easily and without being able to defend your case. And I think that about covers your entire flawed argument.

    The job was easy, even when you had party floors, and kids who drank too much, and you had to make those tough calls to get someone hospitalized or arrested. It wasn’t worth as much as I was getting compensated, but I wasn’t going to complain. I didn’t like paying the union, because it would demonize my wonderful boss everytime an idiot coworker faced termination. I didn’t like the hiring process, because it obviously gave a lot of consideration to race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. I didn’t like the “training” because it preached socialism on the students dollar. Overall, I felt the res life organization caused an unfair tax on the student body. I felt guilty at times for being a part of it. To say you deserve more, I think you don’t know what it means to deserve anything.

  2. NO says:

    “Resident Assistants (RAs) are important to the success of our on-campus students, especially freshmen and first-year students. RAs are educators, attempting to inform and empower students to make responsible decisions. They are counselors, programmers and community leaders, and often the first responders to a residence hall crisis.”

    This is, by and large, a bunch of nonsense. While I cede that the normal operations of an RA might be appropriate for freshmen or transfer students, the rest of this paragraph is a bunch of lofty drivel. The ineffectual, pointless requirements an RA has to meet – like mandated spontaneous events (???), activities designed to artificially manufacture ‘community,’ and visibility time – all add up to a colossal waste of time and resources. RAs aren’t “educators” or “community leaders.” They are students given a financial aid package that makes you do backflips, jump through hoops, and perform other useless tasks like icebreakers. The VERY modest benefits of the RA positions could easily be realized by UMass at a fraction of the cost, and could be done without wasting students’ time. Meanwhile, all of the money saved could be used to lower fees or expand financial aid.

  3. Brian D. says:

    “Retired”, bringing up a couple of examples does not constitute a valid argument applying to all RAs. Not even close. And unless you believe that every boss is always going to be a “wonderful boss”, RAs need protection from unfair termination and other abuses.

  4. EJC says:

    Hey “retired,”

    I guess it’s much better to employed in a totalitarian dictatorship where employees have no voice or say in anything.

    I’m sure every boss can be trusted to only fire employees for valid reasons.

  5. 2009 says:

    This is actually comical. One of your arguments is actually “WAH! NO FAIR! EVERYONE ELSE GETS THIS!”

    And to the person claiming they are working in a “totalitarian dictatorship”…quit. A totalitarian dictatorship implies something similar to indentured servitude. Quit. Oooooh wait then you’d have to pay for housing.

  6. hm says:

    18 cents more than minimum wage? what a glorious living! no, but seriously… what are we supposed to do with our lives? neither of the debating candidates have an answer. both of them talk about how they are going to bring jobs back, when we all know they aren’t coming back. i am not a marxist, but i have to say that our present scenario was predicted by marx 150+ years ago: that capitalism, through its induced tendencies to technological efficiency, would eventually have to reach a point where there was so little human labor necessary to produce the means of our existence that work would become increasingly scarce, therefore demand for commodities would suffer and the whole thing would head into a downward spiral. doesn’t this describe what is happening now? i don’t actually disagree with the right that the democratic party has become rather socialistic – so what? capitalism has incorporated socialist elements, like social security and medicare, for almost a century now, and it developed those things precisely to fend off the advance of anti-capitalist workers’ movements. only now it isn’t a question of being a worker, but of being an entity increasingly permanently excluded from work. everyone thinks the jobs have gone to china and india, but wake up: those growths were all based on our economy and our economy is effed now. there is no candidate or party who can plausibly claim to be able to fix this dire situation. the only alternative is a desertion of this collapsing mess some still ridiculously designate as a ‘society’.

  7. hm says:

    sorry, i got really sidetracked with all the debate hoopla going on tonight and all it made me think of; but still, really, who have you got to pick on? a bunch of kids making $8.18 hour along their difficult way to a brighter future? because public higher education is the only way to a better life for increasingly many of us. and it is not our fault that the society that created us is now failing us. when we fight over wages, over ‘just cause’ and the right to organize, what are we really talking about? life, and the means of living. what does anyone expect us to do now that these are obviously evaporating from our social environment, and that even the system of public education seems to confess that it’s headed down the tubes?

  8. Retired says:

    Bryan and EJC, I actually was employed in a totalitarian dictatorship as well. It was a little better, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was MUCH better.

  9. The Juggernaut says:

    Give them the raise and pull the room waiver.

  10. Brian D. says:

    Ah, but you see, if you pull the room waiver and pay them minimum wage, then you’re allowing the RAs to live anywhere they want – which the administration absolutely does not want to do. It wants to be able to tell RAs where they get to live (and how much they have to pay for that mandatory room).

    This is why it’s BS to argue that RAs already get paid enough in the form of the room waiver. The room is NOT a benefit that RAs are free to use or not use, depending on their personal wishes. The room is a MANDATORY place to live.

    The deal is not “we’re giving you some money and a free room.” Rather, the deal is “we’re giving you some money, plus a mandatory room where you MUST live as long as you hold this job – oh, and by the way, we get to decide the rent, and therefore the value supposedly covered by the waiver, and you don’t get to shop around for a better or cheaper room.”

  11. Brian says:

    I agree with the article…NOT…lets look at this through real glasses not your fun house glasses…

    1. you stated you work 17 weeks a year and your check states you work 8 hours a week for $11 an hour ($88 a week x17 weeks = $1,496 for a school year).
    2. housing costs the average student $2,781.50 per semester (x 2 semesters in a school year = $5,563 for a school year)but that’s for a double.RA’s get a double room, but get to live alone. A single room for the average student (which would be a smaller room, a true single) is just shy of $3,500). I won’t use the single room cost, but will point out that another $5,563 a year is lost due to the fact that someone could be living in that room with the RA.
    3. for a total RA’s salary of $7,059 for your 17 weeks of work
    4. you state you work 20 hours a week by contract, ( x 17 weeks = 340hrs worked in your 17 weeks of work)
    5. take your total pay $7,059 and divide by 340 hours worked and you get paid $20.76 and hour (that’s almost as much as I make). oh..but you stated you actually sometimes work more than 20 hrs a week…so 30 hrs a week, works out to $13.84 an hour.
    6.sounds to me like you may be over-payed if your check says you only make $11 an hour…no wonder the state is broke!
    7. labor laws say you can only get $35 a week in housing allowance (says an unknown source), So Umass can only grant you $35 x 17 weeks worked = which is $595 a year they can allow you…subtract that from your housing bill per year = you now owe $4,968 a year to keep your housing.
    8. Even if you had a minimum wage ($8/hr)job for 40 hours a week you would make $320 a week x 17 weeks = $5,440 (far less than what your are getting compensated for now, and more hours.
    9. I see a few things here….one, do some simple math (i know they teach it in college) and realize you have it pretty good and shut the “F”-up! Two, continue your argument, and have the university only grant you the $35 a week, and you can become responsible for the other $4,968…oh, and get a roommate. Three, the rest of the student body can question whether the RA’s union and the University is falsifying its pay statements, or that the University is giving RA’s housing at a cheaper rate than everyone else.

    Something doesn’t add up…and don’t forget you can always quit…move wherever you want, and get another job wherever you want! Trust me jobs in life are not going to get easier as you get older.

  12. Kris says:

    If you think that job is hard, or unfair, or doesn’t have enough benefits, you are out of your mind.

  13. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    Is there some way that both sides can loose?

    Eddie Hull is — well, I can’t even think of a single printable adjective to describe Herr Hull. I would not work for him, and I pity those who do.

    On the other hand, the RAs are, to a large extent, spoilt brats living off the student body. They are not like they were 20 years ago, peer leaders who helped students along the path to adulthood.

    Personally, I would like to see the dorms run by Marriot. Things would be different – perhaps they even would start obeying the General Laws…

  14. billz says:

    You’re a bunch of babies. If you don’t like the terms of the job, don’t take it. And I’m not buying that RA’s work 20 hours a week. A bunch of crap.

  15. mason says:

    How can you attack someone for being upset for making 370 dollars a month, that’s barely enough money to afford groceries. I wonder what that implies about the authors who are attacking these students, they must make such a low income or work such low quality jobs that the prospect of someone protesting making a pittance for a living offends their concept of what having a job entitles. I would not pay attention to those authors, I doubt they attend or have graduated from umass.

  16. Kris says:

    It’s not a living, it’s a college job. I worked as an RA, and I was wayyyyy overpaid. And I attented and graduated. And now I’m a software engineer where I do real work that requires a brain.

  17. john says:

    attented*

    ” And now I’m a software engineer where I do real work that requires a brain.”

  18. Kris says:

    lol u got me gud

  19. Kris says:

    Update: it seeks RAs have even less responsibilities than when I was working there. Even more overpaid.

  20. M says:

    There are RAs who work incredibly hard for their communities, and RAs who barely work. Generalizing that the RA job is ‘easy’ is a bunch of bull. You try keeping a floor community together, having them respect the rules and their shared space, throwing programs consistently to keep them engaged, being both a resource, a friend, and an authority, dealing with crises whenever they arise, helping with academics, teaching them to use the bus system, answering any questions you can and finding out the answer for those you don’t, mediating roommate disagreements, and so much more ON TOP OF your five classes and your extracurriculars, and even for some your second job. If you thought the job was easy, you weren’t doing it right.

    It is therefore a completely false angle to be viewing this argument by. I am an RA. And I do not think we need a pay raise. But I take serious issue with people who believe this job is easy, or that all RAs don’t take it seriously, because I definitely do.

  21. Former RA says:

    I am a 2011 graduate of UMass Amherst. I was an RA. I would be sickened to see fees raised to accomodate a pay raise for RAs. I was paid fairly AND I receieved free housing, as well as reduced parking rates and a double to myself at no extra charge.

    Free housing should absolutely be considered a part of an RA’s salary! Housing is expensive, and it is an expense RAs would otherwise be responsible for if it were not waived by the University.

    I am aggrivated that selfish RAs are demanding pay raises at the expense of their peers or at the expense of MA taxpayers. I loved my job as an RA and I loved my co-workers, but I hope the University does everything in its power to reduce the cost of higher ed. The last thing we need to be doing is raising fees to pay RAs more when they are already fairly compensated for their work.

  22. Peter Galipeau says:

    I just read the above article, and have to say I am sickened by the whole affair. First, background. I was an RA at UMASS from the Fall of ’87 till ’90. I consider my time as an RA one of my greatest personal achievements of my life. The staff that I worked with and the residents that I was responsible for were and are still the most valued people in my life. I spent everyday of my “job” being there for those students on my floor, and looked forward to the next day just as much. I want everyone to notice that I have not mentioned money yet. That’s because real RAs, valued RAs, passionate RAs, do it for a cause higher then the almighty dollar, we did it because we cared about helping people. No one goes into this job blind. That’s why you don’t get to apply until after you’ve been there a while and see first hand just how hard the job can be. No one with eyes that function come out of their first semester saying ‘Wow, that is so much more work then I thought’.
    I think the worst moment in UMASS history was allowing a SMALL group of lazy, disgruntled, cry babies to force the union on the college. It was selfish and belittled a once great job at the college. One in which, at these moments, I am embarrassed to admit to. When a resident was in trouble my first thought was ‘how I could help’, not ‘Yes, Overtime!’.
    I hope the administration doesn’t bend.
    By the way, at the time we got a room stipend and $26.88 every two weeks, and even now I think, ‘all that and they payed me’. How lucky I was.

  23. Steve says:

    $8 dollars an hours? Thats way below the minimum wage in the UK. I take it the cost of living is far cheaper over there? There is talk of bringing in a “living wage”, it’s just a shame small business owners dont get a living wage but I have seen no government deal with that. Tax breaks for small business owners?

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