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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

Faculty union surpasses 135 days working off-contract as negotiations continue

Rachel Choi

More than 135 days after their previous contract expired, members of Emerson’s full-time faculty union are growing increasingly impatient as negotiations with college legal and administrative representatives continue with no endpoint in sight.

As extended discussions progress incrementally, there is still “significant distance between our various positions and proposals,” said Russell Newman, president of the Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECC-AAUP).  

Union members attempted to incite negotiations last November in advance of the contract’s July expiration. However, they felt that “the college really slow-walked us,” said Nancy Allen, communications officer for the ECC-AAUP, which represents Emerson’s tenure line and term faculty. 

Negotiations began “in earnest” over the summer, Allen said. Since then, union members and college administrators have been unable to reach an agreement on faculty workloads and salaries—two of the main focuses of the union’s demands—although discussions around benefits and other contract factors have gone more smoothly.

The college and its legal representatives have not budged on their salary offer, the most recent of which was described by some faculty union members as an “insult,” with 75 percent of union members voting the offer as unacceptable, according to Allen.

“Emerson has historically underpaid faculty compared to other nearby institutions,” she said. “We’re not getting paid at the rate that our peers are in the Greater Boston area … we’re getting paid at the same lower rate that we had before [the contract expired].”

ECC-AAUP is demanding a “fair deal” in which faculty salaries are congruent with their workloads—which, for many faculty members, increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic and have plateaued or further expanded since. 

“We gave up quite a bit during COVID and took on a whole lot of extra work,” Allen said. 

For many faculty members, this extra work to keep the college afloat during the pandemic meant putting personal research on hold, taking on extra classes, developing new online programs, and serving on committees for various needs, such as hiring new faculty.

It was and continues to be “huge amounts of service,” Allen said, with many of the college’s faculty members still maintaining these increased workloads without increased compensation.

“We were willing to do that—it was a national emergency, it was a global pandemic—it made sense to do at the moment, but now we’ve come out of it,” Allen said. “The college is quite clear that we are doing fine financially, and that we’re on solid ground. We’re just asking to be paid fairly and to have our workload concerns addressed.”

Without greater wages to compensate for greater workloads—as well as rising inflation and costs of living—it’s increasingly difficult to retain faculty members, and perhaps even more challenging to recruit new ones. 

Many faculty members who serve on hiring committees witness their colleagues leave Emerson for institutions that can offer better salaries. Then, they attempt to recruit new faculty members to fill these needs, only to find that many of their best candidates likewise choose to land themselves elsewhere.

You have a candidate who’s amazing and wonderful and awesome, and they are so excited to come to Emerson,” Allen said. “Then it gets to the final offer and the college won’t budge, and the person says, ‘I can make more someplace else.’”

Allen said the impact on the faculty’s retention and recruitment rates ultimately affects students, who could be missing out on high-quality instruction from educators who would otherwise have chosen Emerson.

“I want what’s best for my students, and part of that is being able to recruit and retain colleagues who I know will do amazing things in the classroom,” Allen said. “We want Emerson College to be a place where faculty are successful, and we want to remain here working … We want happy faculty to bring to students. Students are here for faculty; they’re not here for administration.”

She noted that Emerson is a “top-heavy institution,” with almost as many upper-level administrators as full-time faculty members, and more funding allocated to upper administrative positions than to faculty.

“Emerson respects the right of each of our unions, including the ECC-AAUP, to bargain collectively,” college spokesperson Michelle Gaseau said in an email to the Beacon. “Since the beginning of the official negotiating process, Emerson has directly engaged with the union team in a timely and respectful manner. Emerson looks forward to continued progress at our upcoming negotiating sessions, and we are eager to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”

As long as the faculty union’s contract is stalled in negotiation, faculty members will continue to work and be compensated under the conditions of a “zombie contract,” in which the salaries and workloads dictated by the previous contract effectively continue despite its expiration.  

Allen noted that this extended negotiation period could potentially benefit the college’s current legal representation, Jackson Lewis. She said Jackson Lewis representatives have used similar delay tactics in negotiations with other Emerson unions, including the staff union, who worked off-contract for 15 months.

“If you’re a high-paid lawyer, paid by the hour, then you can just keep saying no, over and over and over again, for months,” Allen said. “You get paid every time you say no.”

Upon request for comment, representatives from Jackson Lewis referred the Beacon to Gaseau’s comments and did not provide additional information.  

Emerson College Students’ Union (ECSU) chair of national development, Dylan Young, called Jackson Lewis a “union-busting law firm.”

“Their strategy is to stretch these negotiations out for as long as possible,” he said. “This will drain the resources of the union.” 

Young, who is spearheading an ECSU “Week of Action” this week, added that this delay in negotiations could eventually lead the faculty union to take direct action.

“As it continues to get dicey, they will need students’ support and other union support, but first they need to prove that they can do it themselves,” Young said.

One form of direct action took place last Friday when around 25 faculty members demonstrated with handwritten signs and resonant chants of “pay us fairly” before a negotiation meeting between the union’s bargaining team, college administrators, and legal representatives.

“We wanted the folks in the room to know the faculty are paying attention, we are engaged, and we’re not happy,” Allen said. “We found their most recent offer unacceptable. And we wanted … our negotiating team to know that we have their back, and they do speak for us.”

Aside from such demonstrations, Allen said that other forms of direct action, namely going on strike, are not yet on the table, although the union does have the right to strike when they are off contract.

“We are not yet at a place where we’re talking about striking,” Allen said.

Editors note: The wording in this article has been altered from the original to reflect that the union’s negotiations have not reached a “stalemate” or “gridlock;” rather, a finished deal remains elusive due to differences between the college’s and the union’s positions. These differences could push negotiations into next year.

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About the Contributor
Maddie Khaw
Maddie Khaw, Assistant News Editor
Maddie Khaw (she/her) is a junior journalism major from Portland, Oregon and serves as the assistant news editor for The Beacon's citywide coverage. In addition to journalism, she is also majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on race, gender, and social justice, and plays on Emerson's women's soccer team.

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  • R

    Russell Newman / Nov 16, 2023 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for this piece! I’m Russell Newman, President of the full-time faculty union, ECCAAUP. I just wanted to make one comment in terms of how our talks were characterized up front. While talks have certainly been extended and very incremental in nature, I wouldn’t characterize them as being at ‘stalemate’ as of yet. There is still significant distance between our various positions and proposals which need to be worked through. There is challenging work to be done. However, we’re not yet in a position of deadlock or stalemate, which implies positions have become dug in and immobile. We are committed to continuing to do the work to reach an agreement as long as progress continues to be made.

    Russell Newman, President, ECCAAUP

  • R

    Russell Newman / Nov 16, 2023 at 11:35 am

    I’m Russell Newman, president of the full-time faculty union, ECCAAUP — thanks for the piece! I just wanted to comment that while there is still enough distance between the college and the union’s positions such that discussions still need to continue — and could potentially continue for an unknown amount of time — I wouldn’t quite characterize the talks as at “stalemate,” as noted in the first paragraph, even as we’ve heard the kinds of concerns spoken above from many corners of our membership. We’re not yet at absolute deadlock, which implies positions that are completely dug-in, entrenched, immobile. There’s simply a lot of challenging work yet to do. We’re committed to doing it as long as it means we keep making progress.

    Russell Newman, President, ECCAAUP