Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students, union officials call for just cause on behalf of resident assistants, peer mentors

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Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Roughly 40 students, labor activists and members of United Auto Workers local 2322 gathered in protest of the lack of just cause in employee discharge for resident assistants and peer mentors Tuesday.

Organizers and attendees of the “Rally and March for Just Cause” met in front of the Student Union and then marched to the Whitmore Administration Building to deliver hundreds of pages of letters in support of the just cause clause to the office of Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

The rally is a part of the organization’s campaign to fight for fair discharge policies for RAs and PMs. Currently, RAs and PMs have seven days to leave their residence halls and are immediately stripped of their duties following termination. An appeal process exists, but employees still must find alternative housing after being fired.

“Due process is an important element that needs to be included in labor agreements,” the University said in a statement issued to the Daily Collegian. “That is why there is an appeals process in place in this contract that allows an individual to contest or correct sanctions they believe were unfairly imposed on them. We believe adding another layer of appeals is not necessary. Contracts between the University and resident assistants, beginning in 2003, have never included a just cause article for this reason.”

Students looked on from classrooms in Herter Hall as protestors chanted, “We are workers, we are strong, we need just cause and it’s been too long.”

Outside of Whitmore, the group gathered to listen to speakers, including union officials, RAs and PMs.

“Since April of last year we have been meeting weekly or whenever the University has been able to get together. We come prepared and organized while the University was not prepared,” said Jocelyn Silverlight, UAW 2322 president.

Julie Kushner, director of UAW region 9A and longtime labor activist, expressed her surprise at the University’s response to the issue. She said she has never had a problem with negotiating such a clause in a contract.

“It’s crazy that a University would not stand up for its students.” Kushner said.

Avery Fürst, a representative from the Graduate Employment Organization, said graduate students had just cause while RAs and PMs did not.

This distinction is important because graduate student workers have similar contracts to RAs and PMs and, according to the University, “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.”

Laura Shapiro, a peer mentor in Pierpont Hall in the Southwest Residential Area and is a member of the bargaining unit, feels that her status as a student is a reason that she and others are denied just cause.

“It is frustrating to continue to hear that just cause is not appropriate for this bargaining unit at every meeting,” added Ian Roche, an RA in Webster Hall in the Orchard Hill Residential Area.

After the speakers finished, members of the bargaining unit and staff from UAW 2322 deliver the letters and petitions. The group included Kushner and Silverlight, as well as UAW 2322 servicing representative Court Cline and a number of RAs and PMs.

While the group said Subbaswamy was notified that they would arrive to deliver the petitions, Natalie Blais, the chancellor’s chief of staff, told them he was attending a trustee’s meeting. Kushner expressed her own concerns to Blais, who said she would relay the message to Subbaswamy.

“We intend, at the UAW, to address it at the highest level, so we would love the opportunity to discuss this with the chancellor, and hope to resolve it quickly,” Kushner said to Blais. “It’s really kind of embarrassing to be here, to be honest. I feel like we don’t want to make this a big public deal but it will become that if we can’t resolve it.”

Daniel Mahoney can be reached at [email protected]

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