RAs Hold Rally as Negotiations Continue

On Friday, April 5, the shaded steps of Parrish Hall became a podium for speakers during a Resident Assistant (RA) union rally. The Swarthmore Workers Union, the result of a historic organizing campaign among RAs at the college last semester, rallied to draw attention to its ongoing contract negotiations with the Swarthmore administration. The process began on Feb. 12, but has proceeded with a slow schedule. The last meeting before the rally, held March 4, ended abruptly: RAs walked out of the meeting after an alleged comment by the college’s General Counsel Sharmaign LaMar, which RAs described as disrespectful and demonstrative of a larger pattern of bad-faith bargaining. The college continues to dispute this sentiment and referenced data indicating that in similar circumstances, negotiations for a first contract often took longer than a year.

There was a sense of urgency at the rally, with union members and their supporters chanting slogans such as “What’s appalling / Swarthmore stalling” and “Swarthmore lawyers rich and rude / we don’t like your attitude.” Speeches highlighted the union’s grievance that Swarthmore’s negotiating team was dragging out the process and lacked respect for students on the bargaining committee.

Chris Folk, David Kemp RA and member of the bargaining committee, clarified that the Union is not just advocating for RAs but “fighting for all workers here and changing this institution so it’s not invested in war and oil and gas, but in me, so I can take my residents to the petting zoo,” referencing RAs’ complaint that they are expected to provide extensive services and programming to their residents on a shoestring budget.

April 8, three days later, in the shadow of the rally, committee members sat down for the first time since the contentious March 4 meeting to once again work on proposals for a potential contract. According to members of the union, little felt different at that meeting, and Folk expressed frustration that the college failed to bring forward an economic proposal and was allegedly more interested in codifying its own management rights than discussing key parts of the contract.

Despite the contentiousness of contract negotiations, other bargaining between Swarthmore and the union have continued behind the scenes. The day before the union election, the college undertook disciplinary action against three RAs, which led to the filing of Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against the college. According to both Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch and Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 organizer Scott Williams, in exchange for the union withdrawing the ULP charges, Swarthmore agreed to drop the disciplinary action against the three RAs. With this deal, the college avoids the potential embarrassment of a finding of fact against them, and the disciplined union members find themselves no longer facing the precarity of formal warnings on their record. Hirsch and Williams both emphasized the deal as a goodwill step aimed at focusing attention towards the ongoing collective bargaining process.

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