An influential union dropped its bid to create the nation's first union of resident advisers at a private American university on the eve of its groundbreaking vote.
Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents workers at several influential liberal organizations, withdrew its attempt to organize resident advisers at George Washington University just hours before voting was set to begin on Wednesday. The union said that the cancellation was due to the fact that voting circumstances "were not ideal," citing the students' final exams.
"With regret, SEIU Local 500 decided today to withdraw the petition to be the bargaining representative of the RAs at GW. This means that there will not be an election tomorrow," Dr. Anne McLeer, the union's director of Research & Strategic Planning, said in an email to students. "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."
The decision came as a shock to several students who had advocated on behalf of unionization. The GW RA Organizing Committee took to Facebook to say that the union did not speak with supporters before publicly announcing that it would cancel the vote.
"It is 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," the group said in a Facebook post. "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."
A union spokesman declined comment about the campaign and the decision to cancel the election, referring the Washington Free Beacon to McLeer's statement regarding the vote.
The union overcame a number of hurdles in order to organize the vote among the university's part time resident advisers, who receive a $2,500 stipend and free housing in exchange for monitoring dorm living on campus and enforcing university rules. A regional judge with the National Labor Relations Board approved the vote in April, citing the national board's August decision to overturn precedent that had prohibited treating university students as employees. The board's ruling, however, focused on graduate and undergraduate students who perform classroom instruction and research, rather than residential programs.
"We hold today that student assistants who have a common-law employment relationship with their university are statutory employees under the Act. We will apply that standard to student assistants, including assistants engaged in research funded by external grants," the board said in its 3-1 Columbia ruling.
George Washington University, which challenged the union organizing campaign, praised SEIU's decision to withdraw from the vote. The university said that unionization did not make sense due to the temporary nature of RA employment—namely that employees are only engaged in such work for "a limited period of time."
"The university values our undergraduate students who participate as resident advisers in providing peer-to-peer leadership, support and mentorship for other undergraduate students who live in our residence halls," the university said in a statement. "As we have stated, it does not make sense to apply a federally regulated system of collective bargaining to undergraduate students who are participating for a limited period of time in a program as part of their educational experience."
UPDATE 5/5 12:35pm: A previous version of this story stated that the prospective GW unionization would have been the first unionization of residential advisers. In fact, it would have only been the first at a private university. Such a union already exists at University of Massachusetts Amherst, a public university.