Letter: A new way forward for UMass

RAs and PMs should go back to work

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Letter Contributors

Recently, the University of Massachusetts dramatically altered its reopening plan to create safer campus conditions. Fewer than 1,500 students will be on campus, they will live in dorms with HVAC ventilation, and will be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. As we, the co-chairs of the Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union had warned, the previous reopening plan was dangerous, and would have led to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. The voices of those advocating for a safer reopening have been heard.

Yet with this decision comes a new challenge: How will we support the vast majority of students who are studying remotely? Residential Life informed us they have no plan to do so; instead, they have fired the vast majority of RAs and PMs.

This firing is a violation of our contract, as Article 22 states we cannot be laid off without compensation, while Article 19 states that, should UMass close, RAs and PMs should be given alternative work. The solution is clear: With thousands of students in need of support, UMass should assign RAs and PMs to remotely support all students, just as we did when campus closed in Spring 2020.

Additionally, now is the time for UMass to double down in its investment in student success. Not only should RAs and PMs retain employment, but all faculty and staff should also be retained to provide students with as much support as possible.

Unfortunately, by firing its RAs and PMs, the University has taken an anti-worker and anti-student stance. We are writing to implore the UMass community: Sign this petition telling UMass to allow RAs and PMs to support students remotely.

We filed a formal grievance against the University to protest the mass firing of RAs and PMs. In their official response to this, UMass argued that since RAs and PMs had not completed their final employment paperwork (because the University withheld it from us in the Spring), the University has no obligation to honor their contract with us.

This abdication of responsibility is a flimsy legal excuse that exposes UMass’ aversion to treating its workers with dignity. This pandemic has led to a surge in mental health needs for college students, as they find themselves disconnected from their communities. RAs and PMs are trained in building community and referring students to proper mental health resources, therefore we are the perfect workforce to address this issue. Yet instead, UMass has senselessly fired us, and the financial hardship among our members will likely worsen their own mental health.

Yet there is hope. After our successful protesting outside the chancellor’s house, the University agreed to hire 31 additional Peer Mentors to support first-year and transfer students.

This reversal of these wrongful layoffs is a small step in the right direction. All RAs and PMs should be rehired to support our community. First-year and transfer students aren’t the only ones in need of support. UMass must invest in our entire community.

This partial reversal of wrongful layoffs thanks to our protesting, combined with the recent strikes from Cornell RAs, demonstrates that student workers have the power to take action to create change. RAs, PMs, and community members: Now is the time to act. Not only for remote work for wrongfully fired staff, but also for policies of racial, environmental and economic justice. We must fight for a UMass that prioritizes its workers and its community — the UMass we deserve.

An injury to one is an injury to all. First, UMass broke our contract and wrongfully fired hundreds of RA/PMs. UMass has already begun laying off other workers. We must hold UMass to a higher standard. And be prepared for RAs and PMs to take more legal and direct action to pressure UMass into serving its workers and community.

Nat Luftman, Alice Troop and James Cordero

Co-Chairs of the Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union