Bargaining Begins Between RAs, College

Members of Swarthmore’s Resident Assistant (RA) union, representatives from Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, and members of the administration sat down on Monday, Feb. 12 for the first time to begin the process of drafting an employee contract for Resident Assistants. The meeting was part of a string of historic firsts for organized labor at Swarthmore and began a process that looks to deliver the most significant first of all: a contract determining the conditions and compensation for the RA position. 

It is difficult to predict exactly how significantly any potential collective bargaining agreement, once agreed upon, might alter the conditions of RAs. The unprecedented wave of undergraduate unionization occurring alongside Swarthmore’s RAs’ own organizing drive means most new RA unions in nearby schools have yet to ratify their first contracts.

One exception, which offers a clue at just how significantly a first contract can alter compensation, occurred at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Having voted to unionize Mar. 28-29, 2023, RPI RAs began bargaining in late March. Notably, RPI is organized through OPEIU and belongs to local 153, the same local as Swarthmore RAs. According to an Instagram post from RPI’s RA Union, their contract, negotiations for which stretched well past the summer, was ratified unanimously Dec.16th. Among other provisions, the contract increased base pay by over 400%, from $300 to $1,600 pera semester. 

In a practice common for contract negotiations, the meeting was closed to non-RAs. Swarthmore College had not responded to requests for comment regarding ongoing negotiations at the time of publication. Swarthmore Workers Union declined to comment and instead directed The Phoenix to a statement posted on their Instagram. The statement, quoted from Aashish Panta ’26, an RA for Hallowell and a member of the bargaining committee, detailed the process.

“We realize that this is going to be a long process that will require continuous organizing and enormous patience. The most frequent question we ask Scott, the OPEIU representative for our union, is ‘How long is this going to take?’ ‘Months…or even more,’ he says while sharing his anecdotes of bargaining for RA unions at other universities. […] The length of our negotiations is mainly going to depend on the stance taken by the administration and our ability to effectively respond. As a first-generation, low-income student, Swarthmore has given me more than I could have imagined. So I believe in Swarthmore. And the Swarthmore I believe in is not an administration that will fight to the last bite to retain its privileges, unwilling to make concessions for the welfare of its student workers. […] I sincerely hope the administration that sits across the bargaining table will be a Swarthmore I can believe in.”

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