Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown Resident Assistants File for Union Representation, Call on University to Voluntarily Grant Union Status

A coalition of Georgetown University resident assistants requested to unionize in a letter they delivered to the office of University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) at 12:30 p.m. on March 22, asking the university to voluntarily recognize them as a union.

This comes after nearly 83% of resident assistants (RAs) — 85 of the university’s 103 RAssigned a union petition authorizing Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) to represent the RAs in their bargaining with the university. OPEIU Local 153 filed a petition for a representation election (RC) with the National Labor Relations Board at 9:27 a.m. on March 22 on behalf of the RAs. 

The coalition of RAs also launched their Instagram page, with the name Georgetown Resident Assistant Coalition (GRAC), which links to a list of grievances that RAs have with the university, including arbitrary termination, inequitable compensation, inadequate mental health support and a lack of transparency in the RA placement process.

Ulises Olea Tapia (SFS ’25), a member of GRAC’s organizing committee who served as an RA in New South Hall last year and serves as an RA in Village A this year, said getting 85 RAs to sign in favor of unionizing in under two weeks involved knocking on doors, messaging people and explaining the unionization efforts in casual conversations, like run-ins with RAs in Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall. 

“It has taken time, emotional energy,” Olea Tapia told The Hoya. “It has taken everything that’s in us to give, but we are happy to give it because we believe that these efforts will lead to a very positive impact on our employment, but also on the larger Georgetown community because when we are okay, we are better able and equipped to be there for you, for the students.” 

A university spokesperson said the university is currently reviewing the unionization request that RAs made.

“We deeply value the contributions of Resident Assistants (RAs) to our living and learning community and are reviewing their request to be recognized as a collective bargaining unit,” a university spokesperson wrote to The Hoya.

The letter to DeGioia gives the university a deadline of noon on March 27 to respond to the RAs’ request for voluntary recognition of their union status, which they are eligible for because 85 RAs signed the petition to unionize with OPEIU Local 153’s representation. It is rare for universities to voluntarily grant union status to undergraduate groups — Wesleyan University became the first university to voluntarily recognize its resident assistants as a union two years ago. 

If the university declines to voluntarily recognize the coalition of RAs as a union, the coalition will hold an election within 35 days of filing the petition, according to the NLRB guidelines. In this election, all undergraduate RAs can cast a ballot indicating whether they agree to have OPEIU Local 153 represent them in negotiations and bargaining.

Should the majority of RAs vote in favor of OPEIU Local 153’s representation, the coalition of RAs will receive union status.

Olea Tapia said he hopes DeGioia, who himself served as an RA during his time at Georgetown, will see that granting voluntary union status aligns with the university’s Jesuit values. 

“My hope is that when he reads the accounts of many of my colleagues and myself, of why we’re choosing to unionize, my hope is that he will look at the Jesuit values, that he will think about cura personalis, that he will think about diversity and community, that he will think about Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam,” Olea Tapia said. “And what these three big Jesuit values would tell you is voluntarily accept the union.” 

Among many of its goals, GRAC is fighting to establish a formal grievance process for RAs who report potential misconduct by community directors, the declassification of RAs as at-will employees and the implementation of a large, direct stipend rather than the current indirect compensation package that RAs receive, according to GRAC’s list of grievances

Becca Haley (CAS ’25), who serves as an RA in Ida Ryan & Isaac Hawkins Hall this year, said her cost of attendance is just $1,000 less now that she is an RA compared to what it was before she took on the job, even though, being an RA should cover the full cost of room and board — about $20,000 — according to Haley. She said this is because RAs’ compensation does not stack with preexisting financial aid and prevents RAs from simultaneously doing federal work-study jobs on campus. 

“It took away my eligibility for work study because the RA benefits replaced it, which means that I don’t actually have the ability to work on campus outside of my RA role,” Haley told The Hoya. “And so there’s no money coming into my pocket, and we don’t receive a stipend either. So I see pretty much no financial difference, except for like, access to a niche meal plan or something like that.”

Haley said she hopes unionization efforts lead to a stipend that comes directly to the RAs.

Evie Steele/The Hoya| A coalition of resident assistants (RAs) delivered a petition to the university requesting voluntary recognition of their union status. 

Sam Lovell (CAS ’25), an RA in Copley Hall and a member of GRAC’s organizing committee who is not speaking on behalf of Residential Living, said that while he has not dealt with arbitrary infractions personally, some RAs have expressed facing consequences for situations like arriving to a staff meeting three minutes late or submitting a duty log — a form resident assistants fill out by 10 a.m. after completing a night on duty — 10 minutes late.

Lovell said some RAs have shared anecdotes of community directors testing the RA’s ability to perform their jobs in ways that are “not setting up RAs to succeed.”

“You’ve heard reports from different communities as well of community directors that seem rather eager to put their resident assistants in a position to violate some accountability guidelines,” Lovell told The Hoya. “You know, community directors, who, perhaps put small notes on a door or plant a small object to be found during one’s duty rounds in a stairwell.”

Lovell said he and other members of the organizing committee do not want to be adversarial with the university but rather want to ensure RAs have a say in decisions that impact their experience. According to Lovell, most of the RAs that chose not to join the unionization efforts made that decision out of fear.

“They had expressed fear of the repercussions if the university found out that they supported our movement and had signed, and I think that’s telling of some of the elements of the culture that comes with being an RA,” Lovell said. “I think that definitely one of our priorities is to create a better culture, and of course, our motto is ‘helping RAs help the residents.’ That is something that we share in common with the Office of Residential Living and with Georgetown.”

Elise Merchant (CAS ’25), who has served as a resident assistant for two years, said she has regularly facilitated dialogue with upper management as part of her role in the Student Staff Council, which brings together RAs and university employees under the Office of Residential Living. She said these issues include disproportionate work loads among RAs in different dorms and a lack of transparency in the RA placement process, during which many RAs did not receive the dorms they indicated interest in. 

“I will say, unfortunately, in these past two years, not much has been done,” Merchant told The Hoya. “It has been a very ineffectual group, not for lack of trying just for lack of our concerns really being considered and processed and hit on the head by upper management. Not that they aren’t brought up, just that they aren’t followed up on or really a major concern to them.”

While Merchant has had a positive experience with her community director and is grateful for the bonds she has created among other RAs, she did not apply to return as a resident assistant next year due to the frustrations she has felt trying to advocate for more equitable experiences for RAs. 

“I was staring at the button during the selection process, and I just couldn’t do it,” Merchant said. “Like I really wanted to return. I just couldn’t do it because I didn’t feel comfortable giving my all to Residential Living again. I do so much for them, but they do not do that much for me.”

GRAC will host an event about their unionizing efforts on March 24 at 5:30 p.m. in White-Gravenor Hall.

Olea Tapia said RAs risk possible termination, which would leave them with just three days to vacate their rooms, by speaking out about their experiences. While Olea Tapia said he is scared, he said he is prepared as a member of the organizing committee.  

“We are prepared to see Georgetown try to spread misinformation and disinformation about our unionizing efforts,” Olea Tapia said. “We are even prepared, the people who are going public, to see our names being dragged through the mud because we understand that this may be the tactics that are normally used when situations like this arise. So my hope, again, is that Georgetown is a good institution and Georgetown will take this lovely opportunity to make things right.”

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Michelle Vassilev
Michelle Vassilev is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences from Princeton, N.J., studying English with minors in public health and journalism. She is training for a marathon in the French countryside, and she loves Argentine tango.

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