Resident advisers and peer mentors attempt to gain just cause

By Stuart Foster

Jessica Chaiken/Daily Collegian
(Jessica Chaiken/Daily Collegian)

United Auto Workers Local 2322, the union which represents resident advisers and peer mentors at the University of Massachusetts, is negotiating to add a guarantee of just cause to the labor contracts of RAs and peer mentors.

Just cause, in this context, means that student workers in Residential Life would not be able to be fired from their positions without having the option of presenting the case to a third party.

“I think the University should be ashamed that they are not allowing the decision of firing employees to be implemented fairly,” said Court Cline, who represents student Residential Life workers at UAW Local 2322.

These negotiations have been held between UAW Local 2322 and the Residential Life department at UMass. Cline said Residential Life has consistently told the union that the University is not willing to have just cause on the table to be negotiated.

Ed Blaguszewski, spokesperson for UMass, said that an appeals process already exists for students to contest imposed sanctions, and adding another layer of appeals in this instance is not necessary.

“Resident advisers work 20 hours a week for 34 weeks, and peer mentors work 15 hours per week for 34 weeks,” Blaguszewski said in a statement. “Just cause provisions in labor agreements protect the jobs of employees who have served a probationary period of normally six months or one year and have no other practical way to challenge their termination.”

However, Cline said that the appeals process for student workers in Residential Life is run entirely by Residential Life and students are not allowed to be present during the process.

Cline added that residence directors decide if the appeals of students are legitimate and that they are almost always denied.

“Residential Life wants to hold all of the cards,” he said.

Cline said student workers in Residential Life have seven days to move out of their dormitories once their appeals are denied.

Another argument often used against implementing just cause clauses for these workers is that the process of labor arbitration would take so long that these temporary jobs would end naturally after the end of the semester.

Cline contested this, saying that “the reality is many RAs and PMs remain in their position for more than one year.”

“All just cause does is force the University to justify their decisions,” Cline said. “It doesn’t prevent them from firing people, they just have to justify it to a third party.”

Blaguszewski called the process of labor arbitration time-consuming and costly, and said the administration is working to create a system with UAW Local 2322 that allows students to have fair hearings without going through a labor arbitration process.

“All the costs of this contract are paid for by students living in residence halls,” Blaguszweski said in a statement. “Our goal is to spend that money on providing more services to students and student employees.”

Cline’s union has been trying to inform people of their efforts through word of mouth, which included talking to parents dropping off their children during move-in day.

UAW Local 2322 has also created online petitions in support of applying just cause to student workers in Residential Life and is collecting letters of support for this cause.

Peer mentors only became unionized at the end of March, after the Massachusetts Labor Commission decided that peer mentors are workers who can be unionized in January and ordered elections at the end of March.

Peer mentors then voted to join the union which resident advisers are a part of.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.