Fordham Resident Assistants Union File Anti-Labor Charges Against University


The Fordham Resident Assistants (FRA) took issue with several statements in an email sent on March 2, by Jeffrey L. Gray, senior vice president for Student Affairs. (Courtesy of OPEUI 153 Staff)

The nascent Fordham Resident Assistants union (FRA), alongside the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), filed anti-labor charges against Fordham University with the National Labor Relations Board on March 3, accusing the university administration of violating national labor laws in an email last week.

The email, sent out to Resident Assistants on the evening of March 2 by Jeffrey L. Gray, senior vice president for Student Affairs, informed Resident Assistants (RAs) about the upcoming election to finalize the unionization process, which will take place on March 21. The full email can be read here.

Alongside general information about the election, the email also provided a bulleted list of information pertaining to what unionization will entail. The FRA claims that some of the items in the list are misleading and aimed at keeping student RAs from voting for unionization, which is in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a law passed by Congress in 1936 to guarantee “workers’ full freedom of association” and fundamental rights in the workplace.

Two of the organizing members, FRA Peter Wolff, FCRH ’23, and Tarchithaa Chandra Sekharan, FCRH ’24, spoke to The Fordham Ram about the contents of the anti-labor charges: that the wording and implications of various points made in the university’s email are in violation of Sections 7 & 8 of the NLRA. These sections prohibit employers from interfering with the rights of their workers.

In response, Bob Howe, associate vice president for communications and special adviser to the president of Fordham, stated that, “the email referenced in the complaint was a statement of the labor law that binds us, an explanation of our inability to immediately respond to the issues raised in the RA’s petition.” Howe was referencing a petition that FRA filed with the university on February 1 requesting voluntary recognition of their union.

Howe’s statement seems to be referring to Section 8 of the NLRA, which states that it is an unfair labor practice for an employer to “interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization.”
Section 7 of the NLRA guarantees that employees have “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations” in various modes.

“It’s threatening,” said Wolff, describing Gray’s email. “The way it comes off, it interferes with our right to organize.” The organizing members pointed to specific statements made in the email that they felt were especially misleading. The first of these statements regarded union dues.

“If the union is voted in,” reads the email, “we do not know what your dues will be, however, Local 153 represents Fordham’s clerical staff and their dues are approximately $582 per year.” OPEIU-Local 153 also represents the FRA.

In response to this point, “the numbers are just wrong,” said Wolff. “Union dues [for resident assistants] will not be $582. They are actually half that, they’ll be $24 a month.”

Wolff said that organizers had made it clear to potential union members that the FRA would be seeking a raise for its members that would more than make up for any union dues RAs had to pay.

“We only start paying dues once we get a contract and start making more money from either an RA stipend or some sort of hourly wages depending on the contract we negotiate,” he said.

“Statements regarding the union dues created a chilling effect in employees,” Wolff said, characterizing the anti-labor charges and responding to the nature of the violations.

Wolff also claimed that the union dues would be outweighed by the increased financial compensation that would be negotiated by the union during bargaining sessions.

The organizing members also took grievance with another statement from Gray’s email, which reads:
“[T]he University cannot address the issues the RAs are organizing around now… as the University is not allowed to do so during the union campaign and until the election has concluded.”

In response, Chandra Sekharana argues that the university has had plenty of time to address longstanding issues while Gray’s email suggests that the university needs to stay silent during the union’s campaign. “They could have faced [the issues] many times before or after… they could have absolutely been like, ‘we hear your concerns, let’s do this,’” Chandra Sekharan stated.

The FRA also took issue with another statement in the email, which stated, “if the union is voted in, the union would become the exclusive representative of RAs at Rose Hill on matters related to pay, benefits, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. If the union is not voted in, the university would be able to continue to work directly with RAs on those matters.”

Wolff said that the vagueness of the statement caused multiple RAs to question whether or not they would still be able to communicate with Resident Directors or other bosses if the union is voted in by student RAs. “It creates a very dramatic image of what Residential Life is going to look like after the union is created,” Wolff commented about the statement, stating that it seemed to imply that RAs would not be able to talk with their RDs after unionization. “That very directly goes against parts of the Labor Relations Act and interferes with employee rights by threatening adverse consequences,” Wolff said.

The Fordham Ram asked for comments from various RAs, though the requests were declined.

The National Labor Relations Board is a federal agency dedicated to protecting workers’ rights to organize and petition for better working conditions. According to the NLRB’s website, “[m]ore than half of all charges are withdrawn or dismissed. In cases where an investigation finds probable merit, the majority settle by agreements between the parties. If no settlement can be reached, the Regional Director issues a complaint detailing the alleged violations.”

This is a developing story.