The RA unionization developments, explained

Since a group of resident advisors (RAs) at GW filed to unionize with The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last semester, there's been speculation among students at GW about how exactly the process to form a union works, in addition to mixed feelings over it. There are many paths and a lot of legal jargon, so this article is an attempt to explain how it works, especially with regards to RA unionization at GW.

Last Friday, the NLRB ruled in favor of the RAs, saying that they have the right to collective bargaining and thus form a union if they so choose. If a union is formed, then the RAs will start the process to negotiate their contract. They will also have to start paying union dues.

The NLRB has set the election for May 3. Only RAs from the 2016-2017 school year are eligible to vote. Students on both sides of the argument are rallying support for their side of the unionization debate. A group of RAs have organized information sessions this week, so RAs can be informed of the union and voting process. These sessions are just to make sure that everyone has the resources they need to make an informed vote. Regardless of one's choice, turnout is key.

This process for the RA union has been:

1) Charge (RA’s filed to unionize)

2) Investigation

3) Complaint and Order

4) Hearing

5) Decision

6) Election to determine if RAs will unionize (May 3)

Here is the page for the GW RA union case on the NLRB website:

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Now for a few key definitions:

1) R Case=Representation Case. This is when a group of employees (aka RAs) filed a petition to conduct an election to determine if employees want to be represented for collective bargaining with their employer.

2) RD’s=Regional Directors. The NLRB delegates decision making power to RD’s. They determine the collective bargaining process, investigate and provide for hearings, and decide if there is a need for representation. RDs can issue decisions, orders, rulings, directions, and certifications with respect to the petitions.

3) Initial Petition=Shows support of at least 30 percent of employees who wish to unionize (meaning form a bargaining unit).

4) Cards=Cards are passed out to employees in the voting process to determine if there is a 30 percent threshold of support. If there is enough, then the union process can continue.

5) The National Labor Relations Board=Created under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, this independent government agency oversees collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. It is governed by a five-person board and General Counsel (GC).

6) RC Petition=Representation petition seeking certification. This is a petition for certification as a bargaining agent that is filed by employees who wish to be represented for collective bargaining power when their employers declined to recognize their representative.

7) Post-hearing brief=Submitted by both parties at the end of the hearings as closing statements to their oral arguments.

Back in January, The Rival obtained the post-hearing briefs submitted by GW, amicus brief on behalf of 13 higher education organizations, case files, and copies of petitions from both parties.

GW made the following claims about the RA union: that students are not employees, RAs don’t fit the common law definition of employee, and there are would be profound effects of a union, such as privacy issues, unstable collective bargaining power, and hindrance of the resident/RA personal relationship.

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13 higher education organizations signed on to it in the amicus brief...

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The higher education organizations backed GW's claim that the RAs should not unionize. If the RAS at GW vote to form a union, this could be setting a national precedent. The vote on Wednesday is just to determine if the bargaining process will begin. RAs will not pay dues until a large majority approves the contract.

This is the RC Petition:

The RC petition was filed on behalf of the RAs at GW who wish to bargain collectively.


The decision that came out last Friday stated that the correct legal standard in this case is the NLRB’s decision in Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90 (August 2016), which overruled Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004). The Columbia ruling used the common-law definition of an employee for student assistants. This is what the RAs who wish to unionize cited for their case. GW, on the other hand, used the Brown case law.

The NLRB will conduct a secret ballot election on May 3 among those in the unit to determine if they want to be represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 500 a/w Service Employees International Union, CTW, CLC.

What the sides are saying

Rebecca Durango, a sophomore RA in Somers Hall, who's part of the RA Organizing committee, stated, "The decision made me really happy because it meant that RAs, despite what the University said, are legally recognized as employees... I think the NLRB ruling was definitely a positive, regardless of ones stance on unionization, because it allows us to be fully recognized for the work we put into being RAs. Also, it set a national precedent for private universities everywhere, giving RAs at other schools the option to unionize if they choose, which is pretty amazing."

Durango said the ruling was a relief and stressed the importance of RAs coming out to vote--no matter their opinion.

In regards to the RAs' communication with the GW administration she said it's been between the RAs and Assistant Dean of Residential Engagement, Stewart Robinette mainly.

"It's been very professional and mostly informative. All of our bosses, including Stewart, have opened their doors to RAs to be able to discuss their thoughts on unionization one on one, which I personally am very appreciative of," she reflected.

Austin Hansen, a senior RA, is on the other side of the equation. He is part of the new group called, RA Students for Freedom that was formed the Wednesday after the NLRB decision.

The group's press release, sent by Daniel Wetter, stated, "The group’s first action was distributing a survey to current RAs to gauge their views on unionization. The results are clear: a full 59 percent of RAs were opposed to unionization. Further, almost three-quarters of the RAs did not feel fully informed of the benefits or consequences of unionization. More than 20 percent of the RAs responded to the survey."

Hansen gave the following statement with regards to the NLRB and the survey:

"Many RAs, including myself, have also felt intimidated by SEIU when attempting to discuss unionization with peer RAs. This weekend a group of RA’s and I conducted a survey of our fellow RAs and the SEIU “organizing committee” impliedly [sic] threatened that we were doing something illegal or in violation of NLRB rules... After receiving legal counsel from a National Right to Work attorney, I’ve been assured that we have done nothing illegal or in violation of NLRB rules. These intimidation tactics are unacceptable, especially for an organization wanting to represent students. The SEIU unions have proven themselves to be corrosive in many workplaces, and I don’t want to see RAs and residents of our university to be harmed by an organization that ultimately won’t put students first.”

Hansen and others against the union worry about the malpractice of a union, since some chapters of Service Employees International Unions (SEIUs) have a history of corruption, embezzlement, and other criminal charges.

From the GW administration

The Rival reached out to Stewart Robinette, as he is the RAs main point of contact in the administration. Assistant Vice President of Media Relations Candace Smith responded on his behalf. She directed us to a GW Today article that reiterates the university's support for its RAs, yet disagrees that a union is needed.

Additionally, Smith sent the link to a FAQ about the union process from the Center for Student Engagement. The answers put the post-hearing brief rhetoric into more student-friendly terms. The answers to the frequently asked questions demonstrate why the university thinks the union would hinder the duties of a RA. This includes, but is not limited to the complicated bargaining process and potential risk of privacy and violation of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The legal jargon streamlined

The significance of the post-hearing briefs and amicus briefs is that they reveal why GW and other higher education organizations do not want a resident advisor union.

So far, the only college with an undergraduate labor union is the University of Massachusetts: Amherst. GW is a vastly different university as it is private and has approximately 11,000 undergraduates, compared to 22,000. If the students in the unit vote “yes” on collective bargaining, they could be setting a national precedent.

The Rival will continue to keep the student body updated on what unfolds.

There are many perspectives on the matter and this is by no means representative of the entire university nor does it necessarily reflect the view of The Rival. Want to submit an op-ed? Email The Rival at gw@therival.news.

Correction: This article was updated on May 1, 2017 to say that RAs will pay union dues if they vote to unionize and once the contract is negotiated. Dues will not be collected until a large majority approves a contract. Wednesday's vote is just to begin those conversations about a new contract as a union.

Originally published by Courtney Buble on gw.therival.news on 4.27.17.

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