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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Campus union leaders show solidarity at panel discussion

Jack Burns
Nicholas Renteria speaks at the panel while participants on Zoom listen in behind him.

Leaders from three prominent union organizations at Emerson emphasized the importance of union solidarity at an intimate panel discussion on Tuesday in the Little Building. 

The discussion centered on the recent news that Emerson Union for Resident Assistants (EURA) announced their intention to unionize on Monday, delivering a letter to President Jay Bernhardt requesting voluntary recognition from the school. Just three days later, the college formally announced on Emerson Today that it will not recognize EURA as a union despite 86 percent of RA support.

The panelists included in the discussion were Russell Newman, the president of Emerson’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Dylan Young, the national chair of development for Emerson College Students’ Union (ECSU), and Nicholas Renteria, a leader of EURA. 

Renteria recounted the story of how, on Monday morning, a large group of RAs hand-delivered the letter to Bernhardt. 

“We ended up with 28 people from our union marching across the street to Ansin and going to the top floor to present the letter to Bernhardt,” said Renteria. 

Because Bernhardt’s secretary was absent, according to Renteria, the group of RAs nervously knocked on Bernhardt’s door.

“At first, he opened the door wide, then he closed it and kind of peaked his head through,” he said. “I explained the situation to him, and then he had the audacity to ask: ‘How did you guys like your sweaters?’”

This wasn’t the first time Renteria had talked with Bernhardt about frustration within the RA community, Renteria said, as he had reached out to Bernhardt earlier this fall.

“When I first raised the issue to him, he bought us all quarter zips,” Renteria said. “I just told him we haven’t gotten them and walked out.” 

Renteria said while the interaction was “quite comedic,” it was also very encouraging to see the immense support that RAs have gotten from students at Emerson and other unions on campus.

On Friday at noon, EURA will hold a rally in front of the Boylston Green Line T Stop to protest the college’s decision not to recognize the union. The next step for the EURA will be to hold an official election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The EURA stated in an Instagram post that they “expected this decision, and have already begun arranging an election with the NLRB.”

Renteria said that the decision to unionize resulted from growing frustration with the college’s treatment of RAs for several years and that this year, they had “reached a breaking point.”

Aside from asking for better compensation for their work, Renteria said that the requests of the RAs will naturally align with the needs of the student body. 

“We really want to see broader change that doesn’t just benefit us in our position but truly serves the communities we are a part of,” he said. 

Renteria has been an RA at Emerson for three years and currently resides in the Paramount building. He said that one of the main issues in Paramount is the “terrible” laundry machines that are “always breaking down.”

“It would benefit us as RAs if we didn’t have to constantly deal with that, and it would also benefit the student body to have working laundry machines,” he said. “There’s a lot of overlap between what we want and what the student body wants.”

Newman, a communications professor at Emerson, enthusiastically nodded along with the conversation. He explained that unions are more vulnerable at private colleges like Emerson than public colleges. 

“For a campus like ours, at any moment, an administrator could say that they no longer recognize a union,” he said. “The only thing that maintains our ability to hang what union we have is to be strong enough that if the college made that determination, it would be more trouble than it’s worth.” 

One of the ways in which this is possible is through collaboration between unions should a strike ever occur. 

Newman said he is currently in the midst of a contract renegotiation with Emerson and that the 222 full-time faculty members his union represents have been off-contract for over 130 days. 

He stated that while they are “nowhere near” striking, the relationships within the “union family on campus” are what gives the organization real power and leverage to enact change in the community. 

Young finished the meeting by promoting the “Rally in the Alley,” a demonstration taking place at 1:30 p.m. in the 2 Boylston alleyway to fight the “corporatization of Emerson College” and union busting efforts.

“Solidarity is a trust-building process between union organizations,” Newman said. “If someone says to show up, you show up.”

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About the Contributor
Jack Burns
Jack Burns, Staff Writer
Jack Burns (he/him) is a junior journalism major at Emerson. He is currently a staff writer for the Beacon. Aside from the Beacon, Jack is a member of the men’s lacrosse team at Emerson and enjoys taking pictures of the city in his free time.

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    Grady / Nov 16, 2023 at 8:57 pm

    go union! unions up!