New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Guest Essay: Why NYU RAs are unionizing

Emma Burstein and Sasha DuBose are members of Students Workers At NYU.
Lianna O’Grady
(Lianna O’Grady for WSN)

Guest essays reflect opinions from writers beyond WSN. If you’d like to submit a guest essay for consideration, please email [email protected].

Resident assistants, like all student workers, are among the people on the ground doing the hard work to make the NYU community what it is. 

It’s a job for which we waited years to apply, a job for which we train extensively and now we adjust our busy lives with school and other jobs to prioritize it. Whether it’s planning fun programs, decorating our floors, facilitating conversations between roommates, answering questions or being a safe resource during incidents, we give it our all. We cherish relationships with our residents, building leadership teams and co-RAs. 

In fact, RAs fostering strong relationships and sharing our experiences with each other is what built the foundation for unionization. Openly communicating is how we learned that many of us found institutional problems and inequitable conditions across campus.

The RA role profile says it’s a commitment of 20 hours per week — the same commitment as a part-time job — and our only compensation is housing and a meal plan. Not only are these bare minimum requirements for us to be able to complete the responsibilities of the job, but they are inconsistent. Some RAs get single studios while some live with up to three suitemates who are also their residents. Some RAs get kitchens while some don’t. The monetary values of our rooms and meal plans vary greatly. This means we are ultimately compensated different amounts for the same job, which many of us find unfair, as that is not legal for other paid jobs.

Some RAs also find unjustified differences in responsibilities across buildings, often with insufficient training or knowledge on what those differences are. Some RAs are concerned about the lack of a transparent and consistent disciplinary processes, which allow disciplinary actions to be unfairly and arbitrarily taken. 

Lastly, a lot of us are concerned about the lack of communication in dangerous events. This includes intruders entering our buildings last year, as well as this spring when a campus-wide lockdown with no prior announcement to building leadership teams or RAs resulted in residents being unexpectedly barred from entering their dorm buildings at night, leaving them in the cold and dark. Because of the lack of communication, when our residents asked us what was going on and how to get in or out of buildings, we could not help them. As of four days after the lockdown, RAs still have not received any formal communication about what happened or how we are supposed to help our residents in such a situation.

Importantly, a large proportion of RAs are first-generation or low-income students, and in an extra vulnerable position where our housing and food are explicitly tied to our employment while many of us have no safety net. Furthermore, we are essentially clocked in 24/7 since we live where we work and responsibilities can arise at any time. This is why we collectively decided it was important to lay out the terms of our employment in a legally protected manner.

Upon sharing our experiences on an increasingly large scale, and organizing with more and more RAs across campus these past two years, we learned the value of democratic input in a workplace. We were inspired by the dozens of RA and undergraduate student worker unions forming across the country. Many RA unions, such as the unions at Columbia University and Boston Univeristy, are now collectively bargaining with their university to ensure a fair contract that represents their members’ values and needs. Others, including Tufts University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, have successfully bargained and now ratified such contracts.

We are excited to be next. So far, 72% of RAs across campus have signed confidential union authorization cards, and other current RAs who haven’t signed yet still can

On April 16, with a supermajority of RAs encompassing all 21 open residence halls having signed cards, we presented Linda Mills and the board of trustees with a letter. We requested they acknowledge our supermajority support and voluntarily recognize our union by the end of the day on April 23. On April 22, we held a rally where we announced our community support email campaign to encourage NYU administration to recognize us. The afternoon of April 23, our deadline, administration asked for an extension of one week.

We then took the next step of filing with the National Labor Relations Board with the ultimate goal of an election, where all RAs will have a chance to vote via secret ballot on officially forming the union. After a majority vote yes, bargaining can begin. Bargaining prioritizes collective input from all RAs to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and reflected in a new contract.

At every step of the process, the importance of democratic input and open communication among coworkers is emphasized. If any current or incoming RAs want to learn more or get involved, we would love to get in contact

All workers, especially student workers who juggle packed schedules and are often undervalued, should remember that we have legally protected options and a right to democratic practice. We are excited SWAN is exercising this right, and we eagerly await either voluntary recognition from NYU administration or winning our election!


WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Emma Burstein and Sasha DuBose at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Sasha DuBose
Sasha DuBose, Dining Editor
Sasha DuBose is a junior majoring in food studies and double minoring in social & public policy and politics. They're passionate about finding the best food in city and microwave cooking. When they are not writing, they enjoy working out, sharing meals with friends and making beaded jewelry. You can find them @snackwithsash on Instagram.

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