Resident Assistants across US threaten to strike as students return for fall

In some cases, universities are reaching deals with student strike organizers.

Resident assistants and student employees across the U.S. are threatening to strike as the fall semester begins.

As the fall semester begins at American universities, resident advisors and other student support staff are striking against new job responsibilities caused by COVID-19.

At Cornell University, RAs went on strike due to their concerns over altered job responsibilities and health risks that resulted from the school’s response to COVID-19. Citing increased job responsibilities and time investment, the students are asking for hazard pay, cost of living raises to compensate for tuition and workload increases, and additional personal protective equipment, according to the Cornell Sun.

The students also expect alternative compensation for gym passes and other perks that previously came with their positions, but were canceled due to coronavirus-related policies.

According to the Cornell RAs group, Cornell expected RAs to meet with residents two to three times per semester, which would drastically exceed the 20 hours of weekly work expected for RA positions. The RAs asked for the removal of this responsibility due to the “absurd” time commitment.

More than 50 RAs skipped virtual training and started a petition that amassed more than 800 signatures. 

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi agreed to meet with the students as soon as possible.

[RELATED: As fall semester nears, campus reopening plans keep fluctuating]

On Thursday, Cornell RAs ended the strike after the university agreed “to begin a larger process of communication and dialogue,” according to the Cornell Sun.

A spokesperson for Cornell RAs told Campus Reform that the group is prepared for action if they “feel the University is not holding up its end of good faith negotiations in regards to our representation and resource demands as it pertains to our RA position.”

”In summary, our first sit down with administration yielded twofold- a promise for swift delivery of PPE across north and south campus, which we have seen in several residence halls, and a verbal promise that our direct supervisors (RHD/AC) will not be punished in any way for our actions during the strike,” the spokesperson said. “Additionally, they have put out a written statement committing to future, in-depth talks about our other demands.”

At the University of Utah, resident advisors and “social justice advocates” are now threatening to strike after moving students into their dorms over the weekend. The student leaders say the school did not supply them with adequate protective gear. 

They’re also demanding hazard pay for the RAs who test positive for coronavirus, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily Collegian, the University of Massachusetts reached a deal with its resident assistants and peer mentors’ union that would permit peer mentors to work remotely if they desired. The university also promised to provide face masks, additional dining dollars, workers’ compensation eligibility, and COVID-19 testing to every RA who decides to live on campus.

However, if at any point the resident life staff feels it is unsafe to do their jobs, they are ready to strike.

“As always, RAs and [Peer Mentors] will be organizing, especially the on-site staff. We will be refusing to do work that we think is going to unnecessarily spread COVID. We will be measuring public health metrics, like COVID rates and the number of infections on campus and in the community, and we will be prepared to outright safety strike if we feel that COVID cannot be contained,” RA union co-chair James Cordero said.

In early August, RAs at the University of Iowa voiced concerns to the school’s administration about payment and potential health risks, according to the Daily Iowan. They demanded a binding contract between RAs and the university that would guarantee the provision of stipends for the 2020-21 school year. 

The University of Iowa will lose $53 million as a result of lower enrollment and tuition freezes, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

[RELATED: WSJ editorial slams Iowa State’s ‘Orwellian’ free speech policies]

At Michigan State University, RAs moved into campus on August 15.

 Three days later, the school decided to move courses entirely online, frustrating RA staff members.

“The fundamentals of the virus haven’t changed in the four days since all of us moved in. So it’s kind of a tax on the time and the resources and the emotions of all of his student employees that have moved in already,” Troy Distelrath told Click on Detroit.

At the University of Michigan, more than 80 resident advisors sent a letter to the university administration the day before students were scheduled to move onto campus demanding more coronavirus protections, the Michigan Daily reported

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft