AMHERST, Mass. — Complaining they are underpaid, resident assistants at the University of Massachusetts are trying to form a union in what is believed to be the nation's first organizing attempt by undergraduate students.
School administrators are trying to block the move, which follows successful union drives among graduate researchers and teaching assistants across the Northeast.
The university's 360 resident assistants filed a union election petition last week with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, which will determine if the group is legally eligible to form a union.
The United Auto Workers is supporting the students.
The school has refused to recognize the RAs as eligible for collective bargaining, saying they are primarily students rather than employees.
RAs, who supervise dormitory residents and activities, receive compensation equal to the cost of a room and a cash stipend. Next year, their compensation package will be about $5,000.
The students say the cost of their rooms--about $3,200--is deducted from their salary, leaving them with a $50 paycheck each week. They say they should be paid more for essentially working round the clock.
"If you're paying for your own education, you can't afford to be an RA without taking at least a second job," said Mark Griffin, a 22-year-old in his second year as an RA.
Massachusetts residents pay $10,107 a year for room, board and undergraduate tuition while out-of-state students pay $18,360 altogether.
The university says RAs are not expected to work more than 20 hours a week. Some RAs are on call while others are off.
"We know they'll be spending most of their time doing academic work," said Michael Gilbert, director of housing.