Non-union staff to see 5% raise going into new year

By Adri Pray, News Editor

College officials pledged a cumulative 5% base salary increase effective Jan. 1, 2023 for non-union staff members in an email sent to eligible employees hours before the college entered its first mediation session with the staff union on Thursday night.

The college plans to grant the 5% raise for non-union staff in a two-phased plan: eligible employees received the first 3% on Nov. 1, 2023 and will receive the remaining two on Jan. 1, 2023. Temporary or intermittent employees are ineligible, as well as employees notified of their ineligibility during the hiring or promotion process, per the notice.

“Our staff bargaining units, ACOPS and SEIU, are currently negotiating new collective bargaining agreements, which will address their respective unit’s pay structure and increases for their members,” the notice read, signed by Interim President William Gilligan and Vice President for Administration and Finance Paul Dworkis. “The college continues to bargain in good faith with those units regarding their compensation.”

The ongoing contract negotiation between the staff union and the college began in September 2021, with representatives demanding cost-of-living adjustments and equitable hiring within each department.

The mediation between the union and the college began Friday and served to update the mediator on where the two parties stand in their negotiation. This time was set aside to discuss both sides of the negotiation, though Instructional Technologist Illona Yukhayev said the non-union staff raise was also discussed.

“We can only speculate,” she said, unsure of why the college offered the additional 2% the night before entering mediation. “The union hasn’t said anything, but I’ll speak for myself, and I think a lot of people feel that it is a way to put pressure on us with whatever’s at the table right now.”

It is within the college’s policy to extend union benefits to non-union staff, Yukhayev continued, but the practice discourages union membership. In its first contract, the union fought for a plus-one healthcare plan designed to cover the employee and one dependent. The plan was not ratified, though the college said it would explore the option. The plan was implemented this year, but union staff were restricted from joining due to ongoing negotiation.

“We find that [Emerson] is actually [withholding] certain things from us that they’re giving to everybody else,” she said. “This very moment, the last offer on the table says that if we don’t ratify this contract by January, we will not be able to enroll in this benefit until 2024.”

Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Media Relations Michelle Gaseau declined to comment on the first mediation session on behalf of the college, “as it is working hard, in good faith, to reach an agreement.”

“[The offer] is another way to please us, and [Emerson is] within [its] legal right to do that,” Yukhayev said. “[Administration] can offer and not offer anything to us.”

Despite the timing of the announcement, Yukhayev and Instructional Technologist Isobel Rounovski reflect on this decision with optimism. They, along with the rest of the union, believe the college listened.

“It’s also a good sign that they see [the raise] as a reasonable thing to give to the other staff, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable for us to get that as well,” Rounovski said. “It is exactly what we’re asking for—COLA that’s capped at 5%.”

The union came to the table ready to reach COLA. Instead, it found “very little movement” on the college’s end, and has yet to agree to COLA. The union continues to fight for internal equity within departments, which, according to Yukhayev, the college was ready to do.

“[The college] said at the table they want to maintain intel equity, they have to hire a new person and offer them higher wages, and they would raise the current employee’s wages to match that,” she said.

In earlier negotiation sessions, college representatives pointed to experience as a key factor in determining appropriate compensation, prompting the union to suggest an addendum allowing the college to offer higher wages to employees with a greater level of experience to retain internal equity. The college still hasn’t accepted it, Yukhayev said.

The union will enter its second session of mediation with the college on Nov. 9.