RA’s Protest University’s Refusal to Negotiate

By Ken Campbell, Collegian Staff

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Over two dozen Resident Assistant union activists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst took over several campus offices yesterday.

The protest began at approximately 11:15 a.m. when 26 protestors, upset over the University’s Mar. 26 refusal to negotiate, marched into the chancellor’s office at 374 Whitmore Building and demanded to speak with interim Chancellor Marcellette Williams. Upon being told that Williams was in Boston, the protestors sat down in the office and chanted.

Union representatives maintain that the University’s refusal to bargain with the union is illegal under Massachusetts labor laws.

“The University is breaking the law, and they’re using public money to hire union-busting lawyers,” said Kendra McDade, a union member. “They’re not acting with integrity.”

“We’ve done everything legal up to this point,” said Pat Colvario, an RA.

Tim Scott, an organizer for United Auto Workers Local 2322, which represents the RAs, concurred with the students.

“We’re here because the University feels that it doesn’t have to play by the rules,” Scott said. “We’re not going to stand by and let UMass break the law.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Javier Cevallos spoke with the RAs, telling them to leave, before public safety was called. Two plain-clothes officers were already on the scene. Cevallos believes that the law was misapplied when the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board certified the March 5 ratification vote of the RAs and Community Development Assistants (CDAs) in favor of unionization.

“Massachusetts law has very specific provisions for appealing a decision,” Cevallos said. “It was the wrong decision.”

Protestors said that Cevallos had vowed to fight them in court, and it would take three or four years to resolve.

“That was a mistake on my part,” Cevallos said. “These things take time.”

The activists were told at 11:35 a.m. that they had to leave the office in five minutes, or they would face arrest. The protestors marched out through the provost’s office and went to Munson Hall, where they shouted slogans in the News Office before marching over to Berkshire House, the home of Housing Services and Residence Life Management. Activists entered the office of Michael Gilbert, director of Housing Services. Gilbert looked on in silence as the RAs walked by, chanting and holding up signs.

Once in the office, Colvario read aloud two sections of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 150E, which concerns labor relations of public employees. Section two of this law reads, “Employees shall have the right of self-organization and the right to form, join, or assist any employee organization for the purpose of bargaining collectively through representatives of their own choosing on questions of wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, and to engage in lawful, concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, free from interference, restraint, or coercion.”

Section 10(a) states that it is a “prohibited practice for a public employer” to “refuse to bargain collectively in good faith” with unions.

Gilbert refused to comment, as did Dawn Briggs, the business manager for Housing Services. Briggs also witnessed the protest.

The RAs left Berkshire at approximately 12:20 pm. and returned to Whitmore. This time they entered the reception area of Cevallos’ office and demanded to speak with the vice chancellor.

Cevallos appeared and Colvario read to him the state statutes. Colvario also read portions of an editorial that ran in the April 2 Washington Post that supported the RA union.

Cevallos listened to the RAs, but within minutes acting chief of police Barbara O’Connor and two uniformed officers arrived. The protestors dispersed after a few minutes, withdrawing to the handicap access ramp. Colvario and Scott thanked the crowd, which now numbered more than 30, and the RAs left. Scott said this wouldn’t be the last the administration heard from the RA union.

“This was just a warning shot,” Scott said.