RAs and PMs refuse to accept unsafe work, demand UMass uphold employment contract ahead of spring 2021

Over 150 RAs and PMs have signed a petition refusing to accept spring 2021 positions unless the University considers students “hired staff” and agrees to provide safe ventilation in the dorms

Photo+by+Mehroz+Kapadia

Photo by Mehroz Kapadia

By McKenna Premus, Assistant Social Media Editor

The Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union at the University of Massachusetts issued a press release Tuesday stating that UMass resident assistants and peer mentors refuse to accept unsafe work and are demanding that the University uphold the RA/PM employment contract.

According to the press release, more than 150 RAs and PMs have signed a petition “refusing to accept position offers for the Spring 2021 semester unless the University considers students as ‘hired’ staff when they accept their position offers, and agrees to provide safe ventilation in the dorms.”

“Even though they intend to send us job offers and give us the chance to accept those job offers, UMass has not said whether they consider us ‘hired,’ even after we accept job offers,” said Ivy Carney, RA/PM Union co-chair, in the press release. “This is an attempt to undermine our Collective Bargaining Agreement and threaten our job security.”

The union demanded that RAs and PMs be considered “hired staff” during impact bargaining sessions with the University in August when the Union initially requested safer working conditions ahead of the Fall 2020 semester. The University rejected the union’s proposal.

“We understand your position,” University Labor Relations Representative Phil Brown said during an impact bargaining session with the RA/PM Union on Aug. 5. “However, we’re sticking with ‘when you’re hired, you’re hired.’”

According to James Cordero, RA/PM Union co-chair, the University violated the RA/PM employment contract by withholding employment paperwork for the Fall 2020 semester.

“Our Collective Bargaining Agreement states that, once hired, an RA or PM cannot be fired without just cause – we can only be reassigned to different work,” Cordero said in the press release. “In August, the University deliberately withheld our hiring paperwork from us, as a way of undermining our Collective Bargaining Agreement, so they could wrongfully fire hundreds of students who depend on this job for housing and paying tuition.”

“If UMass is really negotiating in good faith, they need to consider us hired and honor our Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Cordero said. “Then, we would be happy to reach an agreement to safely reopen campus.”

Marco Maldonado, an RA, said he is concerned about safety, specifically pertaining to the quality of the ventilation systems in the residential buildings.

“UMass hasn’t agreed to honor [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] or Harvard School of Public Health ventilation guidelines, which means this airborne virus could spread rapidly in the dorms,” Maldonado said in the press release. “Our contract mandates safe working conditions, and UMass needs to provide that.”

As stated in Article 19 of the RA/PM Union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement pertaining to Health and Safety, “Subject to budgetary constraints, the University will attempt to provide an adequately maintained workplace, including maintenance of existing air conditioning and ventilation systems.”

The University announced its operating plan for the Spring 2021 semester on Oct. 23, inviting all first-year students and entering transfer students enrolled in the fall and upcoming spring semesters back to campus. Students enrolled in mandatory face-to-face classes, students dependent on the University for housing, dining and/or specific academic accommodations and students participating in athletics will also have access to on-campus housing. The University expects to operate at about 60 percent capacity.

“Resident Assistants and Peer Mentors live and work in the dorms at UMass, and provide students with crucial support. The University’s reopening plan hinges on reaching an agreement with RAs and PMs,” the press release stated.

McKenna Premus can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mckenna_premus.