Resident Advisors and Peer Mentors Seek Right to Organize a Union on Campus

Organizing unions on college campuses is en vogue. As followers of Roetzel Recap know, the adjunct professor unionization movement is sweeping the country. Graduate students and some athletes, though to a lesser degree, have joined the movement. Now, resident advisors (RAs) and student peer mentors can be added to the mix of groups of people seeking to organize unions at college campuses.

Students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst paraded through campus en route to the administrative building before delivering a 600-signature petition demanding job protections for resident advisors and peer mentors (people who provide academic and emotional counseling to first-year students). Most of the people parading were UAW represented resident advisors. Yes, U of M at Amhert RAs are (the only RAs in the country to be) represented by the Autoworkers Union. The UAW and the University are in the midst of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, so the students utilized the petition / parade as a way to voice their demands.

Similar fights have occurred at other U.S. colleges. For example, at New York University, RAs are campaigning for $15 an hour (on top of free room and board, which amounts to $22,000 per year). Wellesley College students successfully campaigned for the school to begin paying RAs in addition to their free room and board. But, these demonstrations are not limited to small, northeast colleges and universities. RAs at Midwestern Ohio University unsuccessfully tried to unionize last year and Michigan State University students recently circulated petitions to reinstate 10 RAs who were fired for hosting a booze-filled bash.

The takeaway from this is not what the college kids are doing. Instead, it’s what I tell each of my clients: the face of unions is getting younger and more educated, which means unionized workforces are no longer limited to blue collar manufacturing jobs. Emerging targets of unions are in the high-tech, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, higher education, and freelance journalism industries.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at