By Emily Monaco
Recently, union workers all across the nation have begun to strike for better benefits and fair pay. Union strikes are exploding everywhere as the current economic struggles continue to contribute to the downfall of what was promised as a bright future for many Americans.
As Gen Z begins to enter the workforce, it is becoming clear that having an average full-time job is no longer enough to keep even a dual-income household afloat.
Inflation has wreaked havoc on necessities - housing, transportation, and especially food. But with the transparency of how workers are treated by their companies and organizations, many are hopping on the union train.
So who’s next to join the union boom?
In November 2022, resident assistants (RA) at Tufts University had been trying to have their unionization recognized by the institution. ULTRA, the United Labor of Tufts Resident Assistants, is demanding better wages, meal plans, and flexible schedules for the student workers.
According to The Tufts Daily, the school rejected voluntary recognition of the union and within the same day, ULTRA filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board. If the union wins the certification election, ULTRA will become the bargaining representative of Tufts RAs.
The union was formed after the resident assistants experienced long days during training, longer than they were anticipating. They were expected to work and be on call for as much as 20, or more, hours a day.
One RA, Julie Francois took the initiative and sent out a form to her fellow RAs to get their feedback on how they felt about their training and work conditions, according to an interview from The Tufts Daily.
This then led her to dive into researching and reaching out to unions. She wanted change, and so did her peers.
This is just one of many examples of undergraduate student workers utilizing their leadership skills to create better and fairer opportunities while operating as representatives for their own institutions.
Student workers not only pay toward their own tuition and housing but also fill in roles for the university that are crucial to the survival of higher education.
Resident assistants, security desk attendants, and tour guides are all examples of student worker positions currently held at Framingham State University.
Depending on the department that one works in, there are many different responsibilities that are taken on for these students.
There are many benefits to having such a position such as flexibility with school - but do they put too much strain on certain students?
Where is the line drawn between being a part-time student representative and a full-time staff member?
Last summer NPR had a podcast from “All Things Considered” where they interviewed a student working at Dartmouth College. Kay Perkins, who hosts this podcast, discussed with Esmeralda Abreu-Jerez, a student who worked in her institution's dining services, her experience as an undergraduate worker.
“It's like this constantly - pressure, pressure, pressure … There's no time to breathe,” Abreu-Jerez said during the podcast.
Perkins talked about the rise in undergraduate student workers expressing the extraordinary amount of stress they feel. Students are tired and unable to keep up with demanding tasks and longer hours. But that is what many student workers face, even those at FSU. Especially resident assistants who have to work outside of their assigned duty hours.
It could be argued that we have reached a point where higher education institutions dismiss or expect students to be able to balance such a schedule which is entirely unrealistic. The proof is apparent continuing into this podcast.
The Vice President of the American Council on Education, Peter McDonough, argued that letting student workers unionize would undermine the educational side of their work, according to NPR.
“Do we want to arrive at a place where the madrigal singers, the school newspaper journalists, workers out on an organic farm are all unionized rather than part of student experience?” McDonough added.
But who is saying that it will reach that point?
There is a distinct line between working for higher education as a student worker and being part of a student organization. His argument melts the line between the two distinguishable kinds of work an undergraduate or graduate student can do.
The responsibility for student experience should not be entirely dependent on the students working for their institution.
And if that is the case, then they deserve fair compensation and to be treated just like any other person working for a business, meaning the right to unionize.