RAPM Union reaches contract settlement with UMass

Members have worked without contract for 287 days

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RAPM Union reaches contract settlement with UMass

(Irina Costache/ Daily Collegian)

(Irina Costache/ Daily Collegian)

(Irina Costache/ Daily Collegian)

(Irina Costache/ Daily Collegian)

By Michael Connors, Assistant News Editor

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Members of the Resident Assistant and Peer Mentor Union at the University of Massachusetts cancelled a planned protest on Friday after reaching a preliminary contract settlement with the school.

The protest, which was intended to be a sit-in at Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye’s office in the Whitmore Administration Building, was cancelled after late night union negotiations with administrators produced an agreement, a statement read.

The result comes after almost 16 months of bargaining with the University and 287 days after the union’s last contract expired, according to the statement. Instead of protesting, supporters and members joined together in Hampshire House on Friday afternoon to celebrate.

Marissa Mackson, co-chair of the union, said an administration official reached out to union leadership on Thursday night in an attempt to settle negotiations to avoid a protest. The University and the union still needed to finalize details before the settlement became official and the union needed to ratify the new contract, she said.

“For that reason we had achieved our goal and no longer need a sit-in,” Mackson said in regard to the settlement.

Mackson said administration conceded on a few key demands the union had been pushing for, including retroactive pay for RAs or PMs that had missed raises over the past year due to a lack of contract, anti-racism response training and a restructuring of on-campus housing for union members.

Along with frozen meal plan prices for RAs and PMs, the union had also managed to avoid mandatory uniforms and extended duty hours on the weekends, the statement read.

The union also made settlement on wage increases over a three-year period of the contract, up to $15.45 an hour for the third year, Mackson said.

Mitchell Manning, a union bargaining representative explained that instead of receiving housing as part of benefits for RAs and PMs, members would now have the option to pay a discounted rate on their bursar bill or pay through payroll deductions.

The discount comes at 25 percent for new RAs, and 30 percent for returning workers, Manning said. This change would allow some members who receive financial aid to use that money toward their housing, where they would then get to keep their wages for themselves, he said.

Along with wage increases and discounts, a returning peer mentor who decides to pay for housing through bursar bills would be left with a $2,500 raise, she said.

And even if a member chose to pay for housing through payroll deductions, Manning argued that this method would still leave RAs with around a 10 percent raise, or roughly $400 extra.

“It doesn’t really change things. If people liked it before, they can just choose to deduct their room cost from their wages for the entire year. So it will essentially be the same thing as it was before,” Manning said.

Since the University has seen increasing reports of racism on campus, Mackson explained that training for RAs and PMs regarding these instances was an important deal to strike with the University.

Mackson said that she was disciplined by her supervisors for not responding to a racist incident in her dorm through proper protocol. She said this could be rectified for other RAs in similar situations in the future with proper training.

“I sort of felt like I was to blame for that person not seeing justice because I wasn’t trained well enough on how to handle these instances,” she said. “If the University does care about RAs and PMs creating inclusive communities, then they need to prepare us to handle it when things are not inclusive.”

But even through the celebratory music and challah bread, Mackson said she still felt some reservation to celebrate so quickly. The union had already found some discrepancies between their proposed contract draft and the University’s, she said.

If those details could not be worked out over the weekend, Mackson said union membership could still be mobilized for a demonstration.

“If they’re still being contradictory, we won’t hesitate to call people to come on Monday to sit in,” she said. “We have all the logistics planned for that.”

Michael Connors can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mikepconnors.