On Monday, RAs and their supporters rallied on Low Steps before marching to President Bollinger’s house to gain recognition for a Columbia RA union.

The Columbia University Resident Advisors (CURA) Collective and their supporters rallied Monday afternoon to protest the University’s decision not to recognize the newly formed RA union. The event began on Low Steps and culminated in a march to President Bollinger’s house to protest, featuring a variety of speakers.

The rally came one week after CURA announced it would officially unionize, with the support of 75% of current RAs. On February 13,, union members entered Low to deliver a letter demanding voluntary recognition to President Bollinger’s office, which was briefly placed on lockdown by Columbia Security. Although the group gave Bollinger until February 22 to voluntarily recognize the union, CURA revealed Monday that the University had already declined voluntary recognition.

Prior to their unionization, the CURA Collective, which formed in April, spent several months in a series of negotiations with the University to secure better pay and shorter shifts, among other developments.

As the rally commenced, Alma Mater and the Low columns behind her were covered with homemade posters demanding that Columbia University’s trustees increase RAs’ pay. This set the stage for CURA’s student speakers to begin in front of the iconic statue.

Organizer Mark Kirichev (CC ’25) told the crowd he feels overworked and underpaid, a sentiment shared by multiple speakers. As an international student, Kirichev’s on-campus work is limited to 20 hours a week, however, he says he has far exceeded this limit in his role as an RA. Additionally, he highlighted that as of June 2022, Columbia University’s endowment was $13.3 billion, a sum he argues surely allows the University to afford raises for RAs.

Student leader Leena Yumeen (CC ’23) then spoke about her own experience as an RA, saying she felt RAs receive little training for the job they are expected to perform. As an RA, Yumeen said she has had her residents’ lives in her hands multiple times, having to work long hours, take students to the hospital, and respond to sexual assault directly. As the rally prepared to march to President Lee Bollinger’s house, Yumeen closed out with a quick remark, “students over profits, workers over trustees.” 

Between the large signs and chanted slogans, the march to President Bollinger’s house quickly grabbed the attention of students coming and going between classes. Student leaders led chants on megaphones, including “Get up, get down, New York is a union town,” and more. Once the rally arrived, they surrounded President Bollinger’s door and knocked, to no answer. In the street behind the protest, a supporter had brought a blow-up pig in a suit holding a bag of money and a businessman as a call out to President Bollinger.

Blow-up pig wearing a vest and tie, smoking a cigar, carrying a moneybag in one hand and holding a worker by the neck in the other hand.

Multiple guest speakers were invited to show their support for the cause. The lineup started with New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani. Mamdani reminded students of the $150 million package that Columbia pledged to the local community in 2009, claiming the pledge came only as a result of pushback from the local community. He stated that protests can and have resulted in change.

Dominic Walker, chair of the Student Workers of Columbia, also spoke at the rally. By fighting for unionization and change, Walker said the CURA Collective is also fighting for a larger community of underserved workers who may be inspired to rally as well. He also addressed RAs directly, saying that often, RAs misdirect their anger toward their supervisors, who do not control their wages or benefits. In hopes to bring the community closer together, he emphasized that student outrage should be directed at Bollinger and the University’s trustees, hence the location of the rally.

The last few speakers included Elsy El Khoury, a postdoctoral scientist in Columbia’s Chemistry department who helped fight for postdoctoral wages, and Elliot Lewis, a UPS driver and local Teamster who highlighted the impact of rallying for unionization. Other guest speakers included Tristan Dutchin, who worked with Mat Cusick to unionize the first Amazon warehouse, and State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, a Columbia alumna and the youngest state senator ever elected to District 59.

Banner across Low columns reading "STUDENTS > PROFITS! WORKERS > TRUSTEES!"

Student leaders ended the rally with promising words for the community. RA Lexy Pryor (CC ’25) said that all of the support “shows solidarity is really powerful” and that “the workers united can never be divided.”

 “RAs love their residents, and we love that they love us back,” declared  Billy Hughes (CC ’25), an RA at John Jay, “and we’re gonna keep fighting until Columbia recognizes that we are a union.” 

All images via Kyle Murray