State rules that peer mentors at UMass may vote on joining Resident Assistant Union



Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2015

AMHERST — Live-in peer mentors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will have the opportunity to join the Resident Assistant Union after a ruling by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board.

The board issued a decision Friday ordering a vote among the approximately 75 peer mentors at UMass to determine whether they want to join the union.

Jenna Grady, a third-year UMass student who helped organize the peer mentors, said the university attempted to eliminate many peer mentor positions in 2011. Though the jobs were reinstated after students complained, the uncertain job security concerns current peer mentors, she said.

“When I came into the job in the fall of 2013 ... I was aware of the history and knew the precarious situation the job had within the university,” Grady said Monday. “I thought it was important that peer mentors be organized to have the same rights as the RA (residence assistant) union.”

Like residence assistants, peer mentors live in dorms and help support first-year students, according to Grady. However, unlike resident assistants, peer mentors are not given free housing, she said.

Peer mentors are paid to work 15 hours per week, but at times the job stretches far beyond that, Grady said. “This is a live-in position; our interactions are 24/7,” she added.

Grady, who serves with a handful of others on a committee organizing the peer mentors, said the main impetus behind organizing is job security, as well as getting more respect from the university.

She said that getting the housing fee waived would allow a more diverse group to become peer mentors, which would better serve students. Currently, only students who can afford to pay for housing are able to take the jobs, she said.

University spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said Monday that the university had received the decision. The peer mentor jobs may change, however, as they are being moved from the Residence Life department to Academic Affairs, he said.

“This is part of a process these students are entitled to go through,” Fitzgibbons said.

Jocelyn Silverlight, president of United Auto Workers Local #2322, which represents the residence assistants, said the addition would be beneficial for the union. Residence assistants and peer mentors would be able to support one another during contract negotiations, she said.

“There’s overlap between the work they do, and they do a lot of their work together,” Silverlight said.

The union represents about 3,500 professional and higher education workers, according to Silverlight. More than half of them work for UMass, as well as other workplaces in western Massachusetts and Vermont, she said.

The vote on unionizing will take place in the coming months and require a simple majority of those peer mentors who vote, Silverlight said.

Grady said the decision by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, an agency of the state Office of Labor and Workforce Development, recognized more than a year of work to try to organize the peer mentors.

“I’m really, really thrilled by the ruling at the department of labor relations,” Grady said. “I think it’s exciting we get a chance to vote.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

© 2019 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy