UAW Wins Right to Organize College Resident Advisers, Cancels Election to Avoid Loss

Organized labor has been on a crusade to organize all facets of higher education. The NLRB has granted unions the right to organize adjunct professors, graduate assistants, and Division I scholarship athletes. These wins have been controversial but successful for unions. You can now add to that list Resident Advisors.

The Regional Director of the Baltimore Office of the National Labor Relations Board accepted the union’s argument that resident advisors are technically university employees because they receive compensation in the form of a stipend and free housing. That RD relied on the decision granting graduate assistants the right to organize when concluding resident advisors had the right to form and join a union. This paved the way for the SEIU to proceed to a union election of resident advisors at George Washington University.

Instead of proceeding to an election, though, the SEIU withdrew its petition to organize the RAs. Ironically, the union blamed the ambush election rules for why it canceled the election. “We had only 5 days in which to ensure participation of RAs in this democratic process, and those 5 days happened to be in the middle of your exams,” said the union’s Director of Research and Planning. Canceling the vote was a shock to the student organizing committee who tweeted:

It I with great frustration that we received news at 5:15 pm this evening that SEIU Local 500 made the executive decision to cancel the election for tomorrow. We were not consulted in this decision and are upset that RAs will not have the opportunity to express their favor or disfavor for unionization. We do not agree with the decision to pull the vote.

We currently are trying to make sense of SEIU’s choice to pull the election, as it adds to the confusion that many of you have expressed during this long process.

I can appreciate the RAs confusion – mostly because they were wrapped up in the process and not explained the rationale behind the SEIU’s decision to cancel the vote. Unions cancel votes for representation because of one reason: they believe they will lose.

After all the of the hard work, grass roots organizing, NLRB hearings, etc., the SEIU turned its back on the college kids at George Washington University instead of risk publicly losing the election. While losing an election is embarrassing enough for a union, what the RAs didn’t know, is that the loss becomes a permanent blight on the union’s scorecard and the union is prohibited from trying to organize the same group of students for at least one calendar year. In other words, cancelling the election gives the union more time to garner more pro-union votes.

This brings me back to the little nugget largely overlooked by others in this story: the SEIU blamed the newish quickie / ambush election rules for why it did not have enough votes to win the election. The union needed more time to get more pro-union votes. This is the exact argument unions eschewed when made by employers seeking to halt the ambush election rules before they went into effect.

This should serve as a reminder to all unions: be careful what you wish for.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at