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Drexel RAs overwhelmingly vote to form union with 63-4 result | The Triangle
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Drexel RAs overwhelmingly vote to form union with 63-4 result

After gathering 617 signatures in support of a petition to unionize, Drexel University resident assistants overwhelmingly voted 63-4 (94% in favor) on Thursday, April 11 to form the first ever student employee union at Drexel and the second union within the Housing and Residential Life department. Only a simple majority was required to form a union.

“Drexel RAs made a strong statement today that they deserve a real voice in their workplace. It’s time for Drexel to respect their student workers through showing up at the bargaining table,” said union organizer Scott Williams in an OPEIU press release.

Architecture student Jack Sullivan said, “I’m voting yes because I’m sick of being left out of the decision making process and being told which of the hard earned benefits of the RA role are just privileges that HRL can take away on a whim; I’m voting yes so that my fellow RAs and I can have a seat at the table and hold Housing and Residence Life accountable for their choices.”

The RAs’ victory is no small feat. After the union petition was officially filed, Drexel hired Daniel Johns, a union avoidance attorney who has also represented the University of Pennsylvania in multiple cases that have resulted in cases going through the federal government’s administrative court system. Due to Drexel’s extended response time, the union held an election on the second floor of the LeBow Engineering Center without going to administrative court. 

The RAs were able to overcome these challenges in large part due to a centralized organizing committee of 32 RAs led by third-year sociology student Isabel Curtin. The organizing committee held weekly meetings and formed group chats to keep all RAs updated and momentum rolling. To build support, the RAs ran an Instagram account and organized a protest where Drexel Police sharply limited the action. After some RAs graduated in winter quarter, they still stayed involved to ensure union victory. The week of the election, the RAs hosted a town hall and invited their union representative to come speak as well. When the new RAs started, veteran RAs ensured that they were included and informed about the unionization effort.

The RAs will now face their biggest challenge yet as they negotiate their first contract. The union will start by polling its members about different issues they care about and bring these proposals to Drexel’s administration. They will then attempt to reach an agreement over different terms. The final proposed contract must be approved by a majority of union members. In other schools, unionized RAs have been able to win pay raises, guaranteed future employment, limits on holiday duty shifts and free Plan B. The bargaining process is not always easy. The Teamsters union representing residential desk coordinators at Drexel filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board about Drexel’s failure to furnish sufficient information.

Unionization also guarantees the right to union representation in disciplinary meetings and the ability to bargain to require the employer to have just cause for termination. In Pennsylvania, employers can fire employees for no reason at all. In the past, the Teamsters were able to get an employee reinstated after a wrongful dismissal.

The efforts of Drexel RAs are spreading to other corners as well. Since the RA unionization campaign began at Drexel, Georgetown University RAs have also announced unionization efforts. In a sign of growing discontent among student employees at Drexel, a petition to pay graduate students more is circulating as well.