RA Union, Swarthmore, Prepare to Negotiate for Crucial First Contract Amid Union Surge

When Swarthmore College Resident Assistants (RAs) voted overwhelmingly to approve membership in the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), they joined a wave of undergraduate organizing throughout the country. OPEIU Local 153, to which the Swarthmore Workers Union belongs, has since won near-unanimous votes at both Emerson College and Smith College. Now, Swarthmore’s fledgling union faces its first real test: negotiating its first collective bargaining agreement. In preparation for sitting down with the college this coming Monday, the union has polled its members to assess their concerns and appointed a bargaining team. 

In an email to The Phoenix, Vice President of Communications Andy Hirsh detailed the college’s preparations, writing: 

“The College is finalizing the participants in the bargaining process; we expect to have representatives from areas such as the Office of Student Engagement, Finance, Financial Aid, and legal counsel.” He also clarified that the college is “moving forward with the process of selecting RAs for the fall under our current practices, and we expect that any terms negotiated with the union will apply to all RAs as soon as a contract is in place.” 

Seth Jeter ’25, a current Pittenger Hall RA, Swarthmore Workers Union member, and union negotiation team member, discussed his priorities for talks with the college. Among the many issues discussed were the potential for significant increases in the compensation RAs receive for their work, potential changes to the compensation structure itself, and discontent with the length of RA training, particularly for returning RAs such as himself. 

“As RAs, we play a vital role in cultivating residential communities at Swarthmore, keeping students safe, and making it a place students want to be. We should be paid accordingly.”

The tenor of the negotiations will likely serve as a barometer for the college’s overall willingness to engage with the collective bargaining process. While parties are legally required to negotiate in good faith, they are not required to make compromises or agree to any particular terms. Swarthmore has publicly maintained that it respects workers’ right to vote on union membership, writing on its RA union info page, “we fully supported [RAs] choice on whether to unionize. We appreciate all of the students who particpated [sic] in this process, and we look forward to working with the RAs to reach an employment agreement that continues to treat them fairly and equitably.” 

The college is nonetheless facing unfair labor practice charges. The charges allege disciplinary action was taken against at least two employees in retaliation for their engagement in protected pro-union activity. On its Instagram page, the Swarthmore Workers Union has also criticized Swarthmore’s RA union information page.

We negotiate compensation agreements which increase beyond the amount of dues. [The college] telling you ‘btw, if you support [the union] you’ll have to pay [dues]’ without any further information is a scare tactic,” the post said. 

The Phoenix anticipates further communication from Swarthmore College within the week and will supplement online versions of this article as soon as it receives comment.

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