Since the Fall of 2022, Barnard College administration and the Barnard Resident Assistants’ (RA) Union have engaged in bargaining meetings to discuss the RA contract. Recently, these meetings have become more contentious as both sides struggle to reach an agreement.
The groups met on Wednesday, October 11 to discuss after issues were raised regarding the correlation between RA compensation and the decrease of financial aid packages during a meeting on October 5.“If you were a student that received roughly 100% financial aid and you took an RA position, you got paid effectively nothing to do the job,” said David Hamer-Hodges, the RA union’s representative from the Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 153.
Currently, RA compensation includes a single occupancy room and the Flex 150 meal plan. At the October 5 bargaining meeting, students shared their personal financial situations, which revealed that as students accepted a position as an RA, their financial aid packages would be decreased, meaning they would still be contributing the same or similar amount to their tuition as before they accepted the position.
“It’s been very tiring and emotionally draining,” said Darschana Balaji (she/her) BC ‘26, a new RA in Sulz-Reid, a freshman residence hall. “Last week, a lot of people came forward with stories about how they’re coming from really, really difficult financial situation backgrounds, and then when they’re not receiving any financial compensation, they feel really backstabbed by the school.”
In current negotiations with the Barnard administration, the union has proposed a compensation plan in which the $12,438 cost of housing can be deducted from someone’s bill or given as a stipend in addition to a stipend of $10,200.
“Philosophically, we believe that the room is a requirement of the job, you cannot be an RA and not reside in the dorm you are an RA for, so we don’t believe that that should be considered compensation,” said David Hamer-Hodges. “We need to realize the full value of that without it being considered compensation; the $12,438 cost should be either credited to somebody’s account essentially or as part of the stipend. We then believe you should get paid for the work that you do, and using campus minimum wage, we came to $10,200.”
Marlee Montgomery (she/her) BC ‘26, a first-time RA and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, is one of the RAs receiving a minimal difference between her financial aid packages before she accepted the position and now. Montgomery said that being involved in the bargaining process has been a high-time commitment, but she still feels compelled to participate.
“For me, there is no option to not be involved in this work because it is a fundamental inequity issue,” said Montgomery. “Whenever there’s that anywhere on campus, morally, I’m committed to be there and to put all of my energy as possible, and on top of that, it personally is a problem for me because I’m still on high financial aid.”
Many students hold frustrations over the issue of compensation and equity with the college, such as RA union member Idalys Guitterrez (she/they) BC ‘26.“You [Barnard College] preach and pose as this entity of care and community,” said Guitterez. “How are you going to do that when you have students who are making a net zero from a job that they thought was going to be beneficial, not only to them financially, but also to them as a person?”
According to Montgomery, transparency on the part of the College has been a big issue, without “even speaking about financial aid”. “There’s just like a fundamental lack of transparency in even just what the job entails,” said Montgomery. “We’re not completely sure what we are committing to.”
Montgomery said that she wasn’t aware of how many responsibilities she would have as an RA, including the number of duty shifts she would be doing, meetings with her supervisors, the one-on-one meetings with all 68 of her residents, and more. “Since I was not aware of a commitment that this would also be, I am now in a place where I’m extremely overwhelmed and extremely financially disadvantaged,” said Montgomery. “I can say in full faith that with the money that I’m making right now, I would be in a better position if I were to take any other job on campus.”
Other students raised issues with the lack of respect for CARDS (Center for Accessibility Resources & Disability Services) accommodations and inflexibility in the placement process. As a student with accommodations for a room with a kitchen and close proximity to campus, Guitterez said she remembered being very frustrated when she received her RA placement assignment in Plimpton, as it “was one of the only housing places I knew I couldn’t be in because it’s too far away”. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can accept this position’,” said Guitterez. “And my mom was like, ‘Well, you have to accept the job or you can’t pay for college’.”
According to Rania Hussain (she/her) BC ‘25, a member of the union bargaining committee with Montgomery, RAs have been working towards altering compensation and position requirements since October 2022. At that time, the organization of RAs asked the college to voluntarily recognize them as a union and held a rally to deliver a letter to the College for a similar purpose, but the college refused.
The group took steps to attain federal recognition by holding a vote that included RAs and ResLife employees, in which 96% of the body voted for being recognized as a union. After being federally recognized, the union and the administration began holding bargaining meetings every 2 weeks, though their frequency has increased recently to attain an agreement.
“They [Barnard] do seem interested in paying now they have come back to the table with an interest in addressing a stipend, so I hope that they can see the reasonableness of this proposal and get something done,” said Hamer-Hodges. “It’s hard to say, but I am hopeful that we get a deal done in the next session”
Bargaining sessions are still occurring as both sides try to reach an agreement, but Hamer-Hodges said he remains hopeful but not naive. “We’ve got a strong committee that are dedicated to fighting for the compensation and the equity that was the reason that they organized in the first place,” said Hamer-Hodges. “We’re in this fight.”