Residence life workers at Boston University set to strike starting Friday

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The group of 300 students is the second group to concurrently strike at the university, joining graduate students who began a strike at the end of March.

SOPHIE PARK

Residence life workers at Boston University announced Thursday they will hold a four-day strike starting Friday, joining graduate student workers who have been on strike for nearly three weeks. 

Approximately 300 resident life students — which include resident assistants, graduate resident assistants, and graduate hall assistants — will kick off their strike with a rally at the university’s Marsh Plaza at noon on Friday. The group, represented by SEIU Local 509, has filed several unfair labor practice charges against the school throughout nearly five months of negotiations for a contract, according to a statement sent to Boston.com by the union.

The group is asking for a $15 an hour wage and an expanded meal plan along with the free housing already provided to workers by the school. 

“Housing as compensation does not acknowledge the critical role we fulfill around the clock at the university,” said Jasmine A. Richardson, a resident assistant at BU, in a statement.

BU was not able to be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

What residence life workers are asking for

Residence life workers are responsible for programming in their halls, running the on-call office, crisis prevention and conflict mediation, and enforcement of residential rules, according to the union. BU’s website says the workers manage more than 11,000 students across 150 residences and calls the program “one of the largest and most complex residence life programs at any university in the nation.”

“Between unpaid training time and managing the high RA-to-student ratios, many of us are struggling to find financial and academic stability,” Richardson said. “BU has the resources to invest in us as workers, and settling a fair contract would bring us closer to a more equitable campus for all.”

Residence life workers are also demanding enhanced training — including CPR and Narcan administration —  summer health and safety measures like air conditioning, and backpay. 

“Our work involves supporting students through navigating difficult situations, which can range from conflict mediation to crisis intervention,” said Kira Levenson, a graduate resident assistant. “We need training that more accurately reflects our duties so that we can foster a safer environment on campus for everyone.”

Graduate workers have been on strike for weeks

Residence life workers are the second group to strike in the past month after failing to reach a labor agreement with the university.

BU’s Graduate Workers Union (BUGWU) began a strike March 25 after eight months of bargaining with the school for better pay and comprehensive health care, among other demands. BUGWU, also represented by SEIU 509, has filed more than five unfair labor practice charges against the school.

Last week, the graduate student union accused the school of “reckless strike-breaking action” when BU rolled out new payroll attestation forms for graduate students. Though BU is withholding pay from striking students, graduate students who are still working but did not fill out the payroll form were reportedly not paid, BUGWU said in a statement

“BUGWU will be taking stock of the full scale of the suspected wage theft and pursuing this with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office accordingly at the first opportunity,” BUGWU said. 

Kenneth Lutchen, university provost and chief academic officer ad interim, said in an email to faculty and staff April 8 that while some contract agreements with BUGWU have been made, there has not been progress on the “issues that matter most,” including benefits and compensation. 

“We respect the students’ legal right to strike. We do not understand, however, the lack of urgency on their part with respect to moving expeditiously to resolve this contract,” Lutchen said, referring to BUGWU allegedly declining to pursue federal labor mediation and owing the school a response to more than 20 contract articles.

Though residence life workers are only expected to strike for four days starting Friday, graduate student workers have said they will continue to strike until their demands are met. 

“ResLife workers at Boston University play a vital role in their community, offering essential support and guidance to our students as they navigate campus life,” said David Foley, president of SEIU Local 509, in a statement. “As they join forces with graduate workers on strike, our union’s message is clear: we demand respect, fair treatment, and dignity in the workplace for all workers at BU.”

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