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

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

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson resident assistants file to unionize

More than 80 percent of resident assistants have signed union cards in hopes of establishing more transparency from the college, a pay stipend, and better working conditions
Photo courtesy of Emerson Union for Resident Assistants

Emerson resident assistants representing campuses in Boston and the Netherlands announced Monday their intention to unionize, joining the wave of unionizing movements among RAs in Massachusetts.

On Monday, nearly 100 students marched to the Office of Housing and Residential Education and the office of President Jay M. Bernhardt at 9 a.m. to deliver a letter requesting voluntary recognition. The college is expected to respond by the end of the day on Nov. 16. If the college declines the request, the RAs will take the matter to a vote with the National Labor Relations Board.

“Emerson College has received official notice from our resident assistants of their intention to unionize,” said college spokesperson Michelle Gaseau. “We are considering their request and will take action in the days ahead, consistent with all legal requirements and deadlines.”

As of Nov. 13, 73 RAs, or 85 percent of the workplace, have signed union cards.  

“We hope to develop and maintain a close and collaborative relationship with the college,” the letter reads. “This would not only benefit us and our ability to shape the future of the RA position, but also benefit the college itself.”

Emerson Union for Resident Assistants, which declined an interview request from the Beacon, aims to foster a collaborative and supportive environment for RAs at Emerson. RAs in the Los Angeles campus are not a part of EURA as they are managed and trained by the LA administration separately. 

The union is supported and formed under the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153.

According to a press release, EURA’s major goals include establishing transparent and effective channels of communication between RAs and college administration, advocating for equitable and greater compensation and appropriate benefits, and improving working conditions (workloads, on-call responsibilities, and the overall mental well-being of RAs).

RAs currently receive compensation in the form of free housing and meal plans. But Nick Renteria, a third-year RA and EURA representative, told the Boston Globe that students calculated that they create $1,400 more value for the college annually than room and board are worth.

The letter also said that RAs, who are the first to receive feedback from the student body, are not given opportunities to share this feedback with the college. As a result, RAs and students are left feeling discontent. Meanwhile, the college misses crucial opportunities to improve students’ experiences at the college, the letter said. 

While Housing and Residential Education has provided solutions (ThinkTank and the Returner Panel) to foster communication with the RAs, the letter added that the “power imbalance between employer and employee is too great of a barrier for effective communication.”

“While these programs clearly demonstrate that the college wants to listen, the overwhelming support we have received for this union shows that this is how the RAs want to be heard,” the letter said.

HRE referred the Beacon to the college’s statement from Gaseau and did not provide additional information.

According to an article on OPEIU Local 153’s website, the responsibilities placed on RAs have grown since the COVID-19 pandemic, making the position more demanding than ever before. 

As stated in the article, the increasing expectations include the addition of extra late-night rounds without quantitative evidence supporting their efficacy. During RA training, RAs have requested several times to view the data supporting this decision, but the information has not yet been made available to them. 

Additionally, some RAs are required to participate in break/holiday duty with minimal pay. This requirement leaves many at risk of food insecurity due to the lack of food availability caused by dining halls and neighboring Emerson-partnered restaurants closing, the article said.

Renteria told the Globe that the process of unionizing with OPEIU Local 153 formally began last month, but a desire to form a union began last semester. (Emerson RAs distributed an organizing interest form beginning in March, around the time one RA was fired after she reached out to the Emerson College Police Department to help an intoxicated friend.)

During the summer, the Emerson College Students’ Union discussed launching a fall campaign that would advocate for unionizing undergraduate workplaces at Emerson. On Sept. 25, the students’ union sent out an anonymous interest form for student workers and RAs interested in organizing and promoted it on Instagram. From there, RAs interested in unionizing began communicating with the students’ union. 

In October, as the official RA union formed and leadership roles within that union were established, the students’ union took on a solely consulting role in their working relationship. 

“[EURA] were the ones who organized their community,” said Dylan Young, chair of national development for ECSU and a junior visual media arts major. “They were the ones who got that network together and structured it and connected it with OPEIU and ran their union drive.”

ECSU will continue to provide support for EURA, especially when they plan to negotiate their contracts with Jackson Lewis, a “union-busting law firm,” according to the students’ union. 

“These students are paying the paychecks of this union-busting law firm that’s now negotiating to take their own rights back from them,” Young said. 

The formation of EURA is an essential step toward facilitating better relations between the student body and the institution, said Renteria in the press release. RAs at Emerson play a vital role in shaping the student experience within the college residence halls, the press release said.

“As indispensable parts of Emerson’s residential experience, Resident Assistants are attuned to the needs of the community,” said Renteria. “Through EURA, we seek to build the space to be heard when sharing these needs with the college. Our goal is not to solely represent the interests of RAs, but the interests of the residential community as a whole, working toward an Emerson that better aligns with its students’ needs.”

In addition to asking for support from the Emerson community through a petition—which has garnered more than 2000 letters of support since Monday—EURA will be holding a demonstration of solidarity at 4 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Boylston Green Line T stop across from the Little Building.

The union efforts at Emerson follow other movements at Boston University, Tufts University, and Mount Holyoke College, where RAs have unionized within the past two years. In August, during freshmen move-in day, around 150 RAs at Tufts went on strike to push the university to propose a contract that included a new compensation plan with a semesterly stipend.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Nguyen
Hannah Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hannah Nguyen (she/her) is a senior journalism major from North Wales, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications like The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, North Penn Now, Cambridge Day and AsAmNews. Outside of writing, she enjoys thrifting and painting her nails. (see: https://linktr.ee/hannahcnguyen)

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