After months of organizing, Barnard College Resident Assistants announced today that they have filed for union recognition with OPEIU Local 153, and demanded voluntary recognition from President Beilock.

Earlier today, Barnard College Resident Assistants (RAs) announced via Instagram that they have officially filed for recognition with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. According to a press release from OPEIU, a petition signed by 95% of the College’s 57 current RAs was sent to Barnard President Sian Beilock earlier today to announce their formation as a union and demand voluntary recognition.

According to OPEIU’s official statement, Barnard RAs’ dissatisfaction with their compensation is one of their main reasons for organizing. Similar to the Columbia RAs’ payment before their 2022 organizing, Barnard currently compensates RAs by covering the cost of room and board as well as meal plans, which OPEIU says “results in an unfair payment across RAs of different backgrounds.” Further, as noted in the press release, RA meal plans do not become effective until the start of the semester, sometimes several weeks after RAs have arrived on campus. One RA, Hannah Yi, described being forced to live off of mostly water and granola, after arriving on campus early to begin her RA duties and discovering that her building had no refrigerator and her meal plan would not become effective for another two weeks. The statement also claims that for students on financial aid, their “compensation” as RAs actually reduces the amount of grant money they receive from Barnard, instead of reducing the amount of money they are expected to contribute. Further, the statement claims RAs are not compensated for extra shifts or overtime work, even when they did not volunteer to work additional hours. As Barnard RA Sarah Baybeck stated in the OPEIU press release, “All RAs deserve to be compensated fairly regardless of their financial circumstances for the immense time and energy we put into this job, which will allow us to better serve our communities and do the work we want to do and enjoy doing.”

Despite Barnard’s claims that the Resident Assistant job should not exceed more than 20 hours each week, especially if an RA has not agreed to the extra hours, RAs claim the position has become “an overwhelming, 24/7 job.” Among their many responsibilities, the statement claims RAs are saddled with an overwhelming schedule of weekly tasks, including staff meetings and overnight shifts, are required to stay on campus through weekends and holidays, and are actively discouraged from joining clubs or volunteer activities on campus.

The new filing with OPEIU comes after months of organizing on the part of Barnard RAs. In June a group of RAs threatened to strike upon learning that they would not receive meal plans for the summer months, only after signing their summer housing contracts. After meeting with Residential Life on June 2, RAs were offered meal plans that would begin on June 20, with a $550 stipend to cover the costs of the food they obtained on their own in the interim. RAs in Elliott Hall also received refrigerators to use for the summer.

The Barnard RAs’ counterparts at Columbia also spent the summer organizing. In the spring, Columbia RAs formed the Columbia University Resident Advisor (CURA) Collective, which spoke with Columbia’s Office of Residential Life about their frustrations with the RA job in a series of meetings throughout the month of July. CURA also circulated a petition through the Columbia and Barnard community to garner support for their demands. On July 26, Columbia Residential Life announced that RAs would begin receiving their compensation under a new payment model, with the goal of reducing the gap between the compensation that RAs on financial aid and those not on financial aid received. 

The Barnard College Resident Assistant Union currently has a rally scheduled for Friday, October 7, where RA representatives will discuss their working conditions and demand that Barnard administration recognize their union. According to the OPEIU statement, Barnard RAs hope that unionizing will help them transform the expectations and compensation of the RA position, while achieving “security and stability for themselves and for future Resident Assistants.”

The Barnard RAs’ rally will take place on Friday, October 7, at 4 pm in the Barnard quad. More information about the rally and the RAs’ unionization is available on their Instagram account.

Barnard Quad via Bwog Archives