solidarity across unions

Thursday, December 11, 2003

UAW Local 2322 representing 3,500 workers in Western Massachusetts. 

UMass RAs voting to ratify first contract in nation for student advisors For Immediate Release. Contact: James A.W. Shaw, UAW Local 2322 President, (413) 222-3775 AMHERST, Mass. (December 10, 2003)-Today and tomorrow, Resident Assistants at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst will vote whether to ratify the first-ever union contract for RAs. If RAs approve the agreement, it will be the first time in the country that RAs have negotiated a union contract. The settlement is especially significant given the university's fierce opposition while RAs were organizing. This unit of RAs had already made history by becoming the first RAs in the country to form a union. "This is a truly historic agreement," said James A.W. Shaw, president of UAW Local 2322, the union to which the RAs now belong. "Student workers, just like all workers, have important workplace concerns that are best addressed through collective bargaining. This is a great contract that improves and protects the working conditions of RAs. This contract proves the value of a union not just for RAs, but for all workers." "We are excited to reach this point. This has been a long and hard campaign," said Nick Demas, an RA who helped bargain the tentative agreement. "It is truly rewarding to see our long campaign pay off with real improvements to the RA position." There are 360 RAs, who are students that live and work in the dorms counseling students and maintaining order. Recently, a committee of RAs working with UAW Local 2322 settled a tentative contract with university negotiators that calls for wage increases of about 31% over the life of the two-year contract. RAs currently earn $50.29 per week; for the 2003-2004 academic year, that will be raised to $61.76 per week and raised again in 2004-2005 to $64.71 for first-year RAs and $66.18 for returning RAs. The compensation package also includes free housing and some fee waivers. "This is a strong and fair compensation package that better reflects the value of the work we do," said Mike Salamone, an RA who also served on the bargaining committee. The contract also includes a binding grievance/arbitration procedure, improved parking privileges, guaranteed quality working conditions, as well as mechanisms to raise and resolve problems. The contract will expire on June 30, 2005. "When we formed a union, the university threatened to take away many things from RAs," said Bill Knaus, an RA and bargaining team member, "but we were able to at least preserve our working conditions, and improve on many. It is important for us to know that we are working under a contract that is legally binding. We encourage RAs across the country to follow our lead. Joining a union is worth it." The campaign to unionize RAs began in February 2001, and by April 2001, RAs had petitioned the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission for a union election. The university opposed the RAs' efforts, and forced hearings to determine whether RAs are employees with the right to organize. The MLRC determined in January 2002 that RAs indeed have the right to organize. On March 5, 2002 RAs voted to form a union, but the university refused to bargain, leading to a rancorous spring of union demonstrations, including one sit-in that led to 35 arrests. By summer of 2002, however, the parties had agreed to bargain. Negotiations began in November, and concluded recently. UAW Local 2322 representing 3,500 workers in Western Massachusetts.
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The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a loose-knit coalition of labor unions in the USA and Canada that represents graduate students employed as teachers, researchers, and administrative staff.