By MALLORY GRUBEN
Forty-four housing advisers who live and work in the dorms at Reed College are unionizing, after college administrators changed their job duties without giving them a say.
The student workers rallied outside the college’s administration building Sept. 22 to ask for voluntary recognition of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 11 as their bargaining representative. The same day, Local 11 filed paperwork asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a union election.
Housing advisers are student workers who plan social events and connect dorm residents with resources on campus. But this year there’s a new job duty: Patrol campus housing five times a week to find and report anyone breaking the college’s conduct policies. Known as rounds, it’s a common task of resident advisers at other universities, but has never been part of the job at Reed.
Housing adviser Eli Rall, a sophomore, said workers don’t like the idea of tattling on their classmates. They also worry about safety, because the rounds require the workers to walk outside between dorms late at night. Some of the routes run near a homeless encampment.
Housing advisers were promised rounds wouldn’t go outside, Rall said, but administrators broke that promise, telling them that their contracts are a “living document” subject to change at any time.
“The campus hasn’t really paid a lot of attention to them, because of their age,” said Local 11 Organizer Pedro Olguin. “Long story short: They’ve exhausted the advisory portion of asking for changes, and they want real changes at work.”
This is the second time Reed housing advisors have tried to unionize. In 2018, the workers unionized with an independent union called the Student Workers Coalition, but the college refused to recognize the union. Administrators filed a legal appeal with the NLRB on the basis that the housing advisors are students, not workers.
Union supporters worried that the anti-union Trump-appointed majority on the NLRB might rule against them and set a precedent excluding other student workers from unionizing, so the housing advisers abandoned their union. The NLRB now has a pro-union majority appointed by President Joe Biden, so the workers are optimistic that challenge won’t arise again.