Resident Assistant Action & College Response
On Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, Resident Assistants (RAs) at Swarthmore College voted to form a union with representation by the Office and Professional Employee International Union (OPEIU).
Resident Assistants are valued, trusted members of the College community and a critical component of Swarthmore's outstanding residential experience. We are committed to ensuring that Resident Assistants are treated fairly and equitably.
As we shared with the RAs directly, Swarthmore fully supported each Resident Assistant’s individual, voluntary choice in an election to form a union. The College did not stand in the way of that democratic process and will abide by the outcome of the election results.
This page is meant to serve as a resource for College community members who may have questions about the process and what this vote means for our community.
- What is happening with Resident Assistants and the College?
The College was notified on November 6, 2023, that Local 153 of the OPEIU (The Office and Professional Employees International Union) had filed a Petition to represent the Resident Assistants. On December 14, 2023, in a vote of 46 to 5, Resident Assistants decided to form a union with OPEIU representation.
- What is the College's positon on the Resident Assistants Union?
One of the reasons our residential experience is so exceptional is because of the contributions of our Resident Assistants. All along, we fully supported their choice on whether to unionize. We appreciate all of the students who particpated 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 and supports the College's mission.
- Did the College support the election?
The College fully supported each Resident Assistant’s individual and voluntary choice to vote in the election that formed the union. The College honored that democratic process and will abide by the election results.
- When was the Election?
The election was held on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, 3-6 p.m. in Kohlberg Hall Room 116.
- Who was eligible to vote?
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that all Swarthmore College students who were serving as Resident Assistants as of October 11, 2023, were eligible to vote and will form the bargaining unit.
- What happens now that a majority of the Resident Assistants voted in favor of union representation?
After the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results of the election, OPEIU will then be considered the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the bargaining unit which includes all Resident Assistants. Then a negotiation process would begin in an effort to agree upon a collective bargaining agreement or contract.
- Once a union contract is reached, will the terms apply to all Resident Assistants, even those who did not vote or who voted against unionization?
Yes. Union contracts cover all members of the bargaining unit (in this case the Resident Assistants), even those who did not vote in the election, voted against the union, or object to the terms the union negotiates. The College encourages each Resident Assistant to engage in the election.
- Will all Resident Assistants have to pay union membership dues?
Under federal and Pennsylvania law, a union can require all the workers who are members of the bargaining unit to pay union dues or an agency fee. The College does not make this decision and it is ultimately for the union's exclusive bargaining representative to determine.
- Will there be any changes for Resident Assistants during contract negotiations?
The College is generally obligated to maintain the “status quo,” which means that the College usually cannot make unilateral changes to “terms of employment” until the College and the union reach a collective bargaining agreement or the parties reach a good faith impasse in bargaining. “Status quo” is also generally required to be maintained between when a union petition is filed and when a contract agreement is reached.
- How long will it take the College and the union to reach a collective bargaining agreement for Resident Assistants?
It is not possible to answer that question. Bargaining a first contract can take considerable time because, among other things, there is typically a lot to negotiate. A recent Bloomberg Law analysis estimated that, on average, it takes 465 days for newly unionized employers and their newly organized workers to ratify their first collective bargaining agreement.
- What will the College and the union negotiate during collective bargaining?
There are some mandatory subjects of bargaining. They are considered to be “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Beyond that, there are no required subjects of bargaining. There is no obligation to bargain over other things.
- Will the College and the union be required to reach an agreement regarding the subjects that are negotiated during bargaining?
No. The law is clear that neither the College nor the union will be required to agree to a proposal. Both parties will be required to bargain in good faith.
- If a Resident Assistant objects to a specific provision in a signed labor contract, will they still be bound by it?
Yes. Collective bargaining does not allow individual members of the bargaining unit to opt out of specific provisions. As the exclusive bargaining representative, the union will speak for all members in the bargaining unit on matters within its purview, and the contract will be binding on all members.
- How will things be different for Resident Assistants if a bargaining agreement is negotiated?
It is not possible to answer that question at this point. The answer depends on the outcome of the collective bargaining process.
- What is a union?
A union is a legal entity that represents a group of workers, often in a trade or profession, which has been recognized by their employer or certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as the exclusive bargaining representative of all workers in the group. A union then seeks to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the dues-paying workers, detailing their terms and conditions of employment.
- What is the National Labor Relations Act?
The NLRA (29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169) was enacted by Congress in 1935 in an era when there were no employment-related legal rights. The NLRA does not promote or discourage unions but rather gives workers the right to choose a union and the process for making the choice. The NLRA is overseen by a federal agency called the National Labor Relations Board.
- What is the National Labor Relations Board?
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that oversees the administration of the National Labor Relations Act, including the election process used by workers to decide whether or not to be represented by a union.
- How do workers come to be represented by a union?
The process typically begins with a union filing a petition at the NLRB requesting an election. The petition must be supported by signatures from at least 30% of the potential bargaining unit or group to be represented. The NLRB will then typically schedule an election, at which point each person in the voting group can vote yes for the union or no against unionizing. The election is done by secret ballot so that all voters (whether or not they earlier signed cards supporting the union) can be free to make their own decisions.
- How is the election and voting conducted?
An election overseen by the NLRB is the opportunity for those in the proposed group to exercise their personal choice on the issue of whether to be represented by the union or not. Union elections, just like all democratic elections, are conducted by secret ballot. NLRB elections are conducted in accordance with very strict protocols. Individuals who are eligible to vote must arrive at the voting location during the designated time(s) on the designated day(s).
Both the College and the union will each have one observer at the election location to help ensure that eligible voters have a fair and equal opportunity to express their choice freely and in secret. The election observers will find a voter’s name on the voter list, notify the NLRB representative that the voter’s name has been found, and check the voter’s name off the list. The voter will then complete an anonymous paper ballot which is deposited in the ballot box. The ballot box remains secure at all times.
If a majority of those who participate in the election vote yes for the union, the union will exclusively represent everyone within the unit, including those who choose to vote in opposition or do not vote.
- What is good faith bargaining?
It is the requirement of both parties to meet and negotiate at reasonable times with a willingness to reach an agreement. However, under good faith bargaining, neither party would be required to make a concession or agree to any proposal.