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Resident Assistant Union Negotiations Updates

Department Overview

It is the goal of Swarthmore College to foster a positive and productive work environment for Resident Assistants. 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.

On December 22, 2023, the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) certified the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local 153 as the union representative for the Resident Assistants bargaining unit at Swarthmore College following a duly held election on December 14, 2023.

Collective bargaining sessions between the College and the Union began on February 12, 2024, and so far some tentative agreements on proposals have been reached. Bargaining sessions are continuing and the next session is scheduled for May 13, 2024. 

This page is meant to be a resource for College community members with updates about the ongoing collective bargaining process between the College and the Resident Assistant Union. 


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. 

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 there are multiple complicated topics 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.

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 is reached.

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 is no obligation to bargain about other subjects.

Will the College and the Union be required to reach an agreement regarding the subjects 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 OPEIU, Local 153 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.


General Information about Unions

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.

How do workers come to be represented by a union?
The process typically begins with a union filing a petition with 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.

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.

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.

Learn More

How do I find out more?

We will update this website with information as necessary. If you have a question, send it to In addition, the NLRB website contains abundant information about the unionization process.