FAQ: The Effort to Unionize RAs and Proctors at Bowdoin College

Update: On Tuesday, April 2, OPEIU withdrew the election petition.

The following message was sent from Matt Orlando to the Bowdoin community on March 11, 2024.

To the campus community,

We just learned that the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) in Boston has approved the Stipulated Election Agreement between Bowdoin College and Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. The agreement authorizes a secret ballot election to be conducted under federal law for the College’s resident assistants and proctors to determine if they want to be represented by the union for the purposes of collective bargaining over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

A representative of the National Labor Relations Board will be here on campus to supervise the election, which will take place on Wednesday, April 3, 2024, between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., in Daggett Lounge, Thorne Hall.   

The election ballot will be simple. It will include one question: Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 153? The choices on the secret ballot will be “Yes” or “No.” The outcome will be decided by the majority of votes cast. For example, if eighty student workers are eligible to vote in the election, and only forty vote, the union will need twenty-one votes to become the exclusive bargaining representative for all eighty workers. 

The Stipulated Election Agreement requires us to send a “voter list” to the NLRB’s regional director in Boston by Wednesday, March 13, 2024, that will include the full name, work location(s), shifts, job classifications, and contact information (including home addresses, available personal email addresses, and available personal home and cellular telephone numbers) of the resident assistants and proctors who are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.  

We are committed to providing you with accurate and timely information about the election so Bowdoin’s resident assistants and proctors can make an informed decision when they vote in the election. For more information about the College’s position and the process, see answers to frequently asked questions on the Bowdoin website. 


Matt Orlando

Previous Emails

Message from Matt Orlando to the Bowdoin community (March 8, 2024)

Q. What is Bowdoin’s position on the effort to unionize its RAs and proctors?

A. Bowdoin is a community. As such, the College believes it is better for our students to maintain their current direct working relationship with residential life staff rather than potentially having these relationships shifted to an external organization. That said, Bowdoin fully supports the right of our RAs and proctors to choose to join a union if they believe it is the best choice for all current and future RAs and proctors. This notice from the union arrived without prior communication from RAs or proctors to the College or residential life professional staff about their concerns or the reasons that would prompt them to seek union representation.

Bowdoin is proud of our RAs and proctors and appreciates the work they do in partnership with our residential life staff to build community and to assist their fellow students. If, after careful consideration of all the facts, they decide to establish a union, the College will respect their decision and work in good faith with the union to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

Q. Which union has filed to represent student members of residential life?

A. The New York City-based Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153.

Q. What did the OPEIU, Local 153 file and when is the election?

A. OPEIU filed a representation petition with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday, March 4, 2024. The petition seeks to represent RAs and proctors. The election will be held on Wednesday, April 3, 2024, between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., in Daggett Lounge, Thorne Hall.

Q. What are the arguments for the unionization effort?

A. Organizers argue that, by unionizing, the residential staff hopes to gain more power over their labor and achieve security and stability for themselves and for future student residential staff. They say a union would negotiate with the College for increased pay and speak for students when problems arise.

A Bowdoin Orient article quotes a student organizer who outlines the reasons for the unionization effort by saying, “We just wish to be compensated more. Our employers are people. They come and go. While we have cordial relations with them now, we might not in the future. It would be good to set up a structure from which we can negotiate better working conditions.”

Q. What are the essential functions of a resident assistant (RA) or proctor at Bowdoin?

A. At Bowdoin, RAs and proctors are student leaders who play important roles in helping to create community, establish and maintain community standards, and provide individual support as students transition to campus and navigate their first few years at Bowdoin. Their work is critical for creating a positive residential experience for Bowdoin students. RAs and proctors connect students to resources, help students manage and navigate conflict, and assist them to create connections with their peers. RAs and proctors are key partners in creating welcoming and inclusive residential spaces. The residential life staff and College leadership are thankful for their work and its positive impact on our community.

Q. How are these functions different than what RAs and proctors do at other colleges?

A. Unlike at many other colleges, Bowdoin RAs and proctors are not responsible for formally reporting conduct infractions or managing discipline outcomes. They do not manage front desks in residential spaces and are not on duty Monday through Thursday evenings. Bowdoin RAs and proctors do not work during fall, winter, spring, or summer breaks. Additionally, they do not perform formal room checks and check-outs at the end of the academic year, all of which are standard requirements for student residential life staff at other institutions. Residential life students at Bowdoin are expected to work between seven and twelve hours a week and are eligible for additional compensation, while residential life students at many other colleges are expected to work between fifteen and twenty hours a week.

Q. How does Bowdoin determine annual pay rates for RAs and proctors? 

A. Each year, Bowdoin administrators evaluate the hours that a typical RA and proctor are expected to work every semester, including during August and January training. These hours are divided equally across the number of weeks of each semester (e.g., seven hours a week for RAs, nine hours a week for proctors, twelve hours a week for head staff) so that students have predictable pay checks. Students are not paid less for weeks in which they work fewer hours than expected.

Q. Why doesn’t Bowdoin waive the room and/or board portion of the comprehensive fee to compensate RAs and proctors? 

A. The decision is equity focused. Because of Bowdoin’s policy to meet the full need of every student applying for financial aid, many students have their room and board costs fully or partially covered by their financial aid packages. Waiving room and board would mean that students who qualify for financial aid would be compensated less than full-pay students for equal work.

Q. What is the hourly rate for student residential life staff?

A. Based on this year’s evaluation of pay rates, the hourly rate is $14.65 for RAs, $14.80 for proctors, and $15.10 for head staff. This year’s rate guarantees students an annual pay of $3,794 for RAs, $4,928 for proctors, and $6,885 for head staff.

Q. Are RAs and proctors eligible for additional pay if they work more than the standard assumed hours?

A. Yes. While Bowdoin pays RAs and proctors a predictable rate (see question above), Bowdoin RAs and proctors are also asked to report their actual hours worked on a weekly basis. Students who exceed their accumulated expected hours over the course of the semester are paid for this extra time.

Q. Am I permitted to speak with my Bowdoin professional staff supervisors about the union election and to ask them questions?

A. Yes. Because it is vital that students make informed decisions, they are welcome to speak directly with the College’s staff supervisors and to ask questions about this process and how the College and residential life staff would work directly with the union. The College is committed to providing accurate information about the election and collective bargaining process.

Q. How would unionized RAs and proctors change the work experience at Bowdoin?

A. Students who work in residential life at Bowdoin have always had direct relationships with staff to share professional and work-related concerns. In addition, they can develop arrangements to support their individual needs as RAs and proctors. This includes gaining flexibility around heavy coursework, cocurricular obligations, and other individual and academic obligations. In a unionized work environment, this direct communication would be replaced by a legal bargaining relationship between the College and the external labor organization, in this case OPEIU Local 153. The overall impact would likely result in a student work experience that is more transactional and less flexible to address individual RA and proctor needs.  

About Labor Unions

Q. What is a labor union?

A. A labor union is an entity that represents a particular group of workers (the “bargaining unit”) and bargains with the employer on behalf of those workers with respect to the workers’ terms and conditions of employment. The union negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements with the employer that set forth employment terms and represents its members regarding disputes over those terms. In turn, union dues are paid to the union for these services.

Q. What is the process to form a union?

A. The legal process starts with the filing of a petition with the NLRB requesting an election. The petition must be supported by signatures from at least 30 percent of the workers in the potential bargaining unit. The NLRB then schedules the election several weeks later, at which point each worker in the voting group can vote in a secret-ballot election for or against the formation of a union. The outcome is decided by the majority of votes cast. For example, if eighty student workers are eligible to vote in the election, and only forty vote, the union needs twenty-one votes to become the exclusive bargaining representative for all eighty workers.

Q. What is a bargaining unit?

A. A bargaining unit is a group of employees who share common interests in their terms and conditions of employment.

Q. What is the NLRB?

A. The NLRB is a federal government agency that enforces and administers the National Labor Relations Act. Among the responsibilities, the NLRB receives and processes petitions from labor organizations seeking an election for union representation and conducts and oversees those elections. Region 1 of the NLRB in Boston will administer any election held at Bowdoin.

Q. Are employees within the bargaining unit required to vote?

A. No. However, union representation is determined by a majority of votes cast. This means that a non-vote leaves the decision in the hands of those who do vote. These decisions include obligating RAs and proctors to pay dues for representation by the union. Bowdoin encourages all eligible voters to cast ballots to ensure all voices are heard.

Q. If I already signed a union authorization card, am I required to vote in favor of the union in an NLRB election?

A. No. Each voting member is free to make their own decision in the election, regardless of whether they have previously signed a union authorization card.

Q. If I vote, will anyone know whether I voted “yes” or “no” in an NLRB election?

A. No, unless a worker decides to share how they voted. The NLRB voting process is conducted via secret ballot. The NLRB tallies the votes, and then reports them simply with a total number of “yes” and “no” votes.

Q. What happens if a vote to unionize is passed?

A. If the vote passes, upon certification by the NLRB, OPEIU, Local 153 would become the exclusive representative regarding terms and conditions for RAs and proctors. Bowdoin College would no longer deal directly with individual RAs or proctors (even those who voted against or otherwise did not support the union) with respect to wages, hours, schedule changes, time off, and other terms and conditions of employment. Any such changes would need to be taken up as part of collective bargaining with the OPEIU, Local 153. Finally, future RAs and proctors would be obligated to pay dues in exchange for the union’s representation once a collective bargaining agreement is ratified.

Q. Could the College make exceptions to a collective bargaining agreement for individual student employees?

A. Generally not. If a collective bargaining agreement is in place, the College generally has no ability to deviate from or make exceptions to the contract to address the individual circumstances of students, absent agreement from the union. Once the bargaining unit is in place, a collective bargaining agreement between the external labor organization and the College would regulate all future terms of employment. This typically results in a standard set of rules and regulations with limited flexibility for specific or individual circumstances. Individual workers cannot opt out of any collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union and Bowdoin.

Q. Does joining a union guarantee higher wages?

A. No. Both the College and the labor organization have a duty to bargain in good faith toward an agreement, and both entities can put forth proposals. Neither the College nor the union, however, are required to agree to any demand regarding terms or conditions of employment, including wage increases. In addition, future RAs and proctors would be obligated to pay union dues in exchange for the union’s representation once a collective bargaining agreement is ratified, regardless of wage rates. We do not know what will happen in collective bargaining negotiations; neither does the union.

Q. Can individuals opt out of union representation?

A. No. Once a union is certified as the collective bargaining representative for a unit of employees, everyone employed within the bargaining unit is represented solely by the union, and future members are obligated to pay dues in exchange for the union’s representation once a collective bargaining agreement is ratified.  

Q. As new students become RAs and proctors, do they automatically become part of the union?

A. Under current Maine law, individuals cannot be required to join a union, but nonunion workers at a union workplace will still likely have to pay union initiation fees and dues for the services the union provides.

Q. What are the dues for OPEIU?

A. According to information provided by the union, dues will be $39.50 per month for RAs making over $11,000 per year and prorated based on earnings for students earning less than $11,000 per year.  Students will begin to pay dues once a collective bargaining agreement is ratified. The union has informed us that it plans to waive the standard initiation fee as this will be a newly-organized group, but initiation fees for future members will be determined solely by the union as this subject is not something that is discussed in collective bargaining. Most unions also have the ability to levy assessments and financial penalties under their constitution and/or bylaws.

Q. How often are collective bargaining agreements renegotiated?

A. It depends on how long the parties have agreed the term of the contract will last, although three-year contracts are common. The parties are obligated to negotiate a new contract upon expiration of the previous contract.

Q. If the union is approved, how long does it take to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the College?

A. There is no way to predict the length of negotiations.

Last updated March 28, 2024