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Arthur Christory / Gavel Media

Community Must Stand Behind Unionization Efforts of Student ResLife Workers

On September 10th, Boston College Residential Life student workers announced plans to begin the path toward unionization via an email sent to BC Resident Assistants (RAs), Graduate Student Assistants (GSAs), and Graduate Resident Directors (GRDs). In this email, BC ResLife student workers announced “[they] are launching [their] campaign to garner campus and community-wide support” as they work to establish a union. 

Soon after, an Instagram account was created to further publicize and spread the message about this movement. One Instagram post called for all BC ResLife student workers to fill out a union authorization card, a form signed by an employee to indicate their interest in joining and letting this union be their representative throughout the contract bargaining and negotiation process. To establish a union, at least 30% of the ResLife student staff (RAs, GSAs, and GRDs) must fill out the union support form. Once this number is reached, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will set an election date, where a majority of voters must vote “yes” to a union. After this, the ResLife union can begin negotiating with the BC administration and the Office of Residential Life so they can have their demands met.

As BC students who are called to uphold the Jesuit ideals and mission of this university, it is imperative that we stand behind ResLife student workers as they push for “fair compensation, workers protection, and a voice in [their] jobs on campus,” as the Instagram account states. Labor unions directly represent Jesuit values, and the efforts of RAs to unionize are a perfect example of what the mission of Boston College calls us to do: set the world aflame and mature into “men and women for others.” Father Leahy’s “President’s Message” on the Boston College website, says that “Boston College endeavors to educate a new generation of leaders—men and women who will be capable of shaping the future …with concern for all.” A union quite literally represents this mission statement perfectly: an organization run by and for workers that seeks to make life more just and equitable by taking into account the needs and demands of every employee. 

Despite this, the higher-ups at BC have generated quite an anti-union reputation. In 2015, Boston College graduate student workers began union organizing efforts, a fight that continues to this day. An anti-union Boston College is not surprising. However, our administration’s weaponization of BC’s connection to the Jesuit mission is incredibly discouraging. In a 2018 response to the grad students’ unionizing efforts, Vice President for Human Resources, David Trainor, wrote that “the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over this [union] because of Boston College’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.” Exploiting religion—one that has inspired “the mission of Boston College [which seeks] to educate leaders who will affect the social order”—as a means to suppress the very movements that exemplify Jesuit values of enriching humanity and creating equitable environments, is a gross injustice. 

In an article for the Jesuit Post, Ken Homan, SJ, writes on Loyola University Chicago’s opposition to labor justice, stating how “it is an opportunity [for universities] to connect more deeply with their Catholic mission” by recognizing and appreciating unionization efforts. Homan reflects on a long standing “Jesuit history of standing on the forefront of labor rights,” citing “Pedro Arrupe’s famous ‘Men for Others,’” as well as other Jesuit higher education institutions that have shown support for labor rights, such as Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

Six years ago, the NLRB ruled that resident assistants at George Washington University have the right to unionize, setting a precedent for other private colleges and universities in the U.S. as well. Since this ruling, resident assistants across the country have begun using their collective power to unionize, including student workers at Barnard College, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, and more. This past August, on their college move-in day, RAs at Tufts University went on strike, demanding compensation beyond waived room and board fees. 

For Boston College RAs, the situation is the same. While the compensated room and board fees are very nice—and critical to many students’ ability to attend BC—this benefit exists largely because the RA role requires a student to sacrifice autonomy over where they live on campus. The “free room and board,” however, does not cover the labor that RAs put in weekly to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. 

In an interview with a member of the union’s organizing committee, one RA—who opted to remain anonymous—discussed how “the current RA benefit is inequitable.” The RA explained how, depending on the residential community they are placed in, the amount of hours an RA works can vary “dramatically.” “RAs on Newton can have 2-3 duty shifts each night," the RA shared, whereas “RAs in larger residence hall units may only have duty once every other week.” Based on a severe lack of standardization amongst work expectations and conditions, equity in the RA role is lost. “Giving RAs actual wages for the hours they work each week—duty shifts, community meetings, programming—would fix this issue of inequity.”

Aside from compensation, the ResLife union is also seeking to reform the efficiency and structure of RA training in the summer and negotiate for job security, mental health support, and standardized work expectations. The mission of Boston College, and the foundation of Jesuit ideals and education as a whole, calls students to recognize areas of injustice to become “men and women for others.” Our administration bases their anti-union, anti-labor principles on their religious affiliation, as well as on the idea that “students are not employees.” However, anyone working 20+ hours a week is entitled to wages and compensation that adequately reflect their labor. For outside Boston College students and community members, it is imperative to support these workers as they push to make their roles on campus more just and equitable.