Staff union files federal complaint against college


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The National Labor Relations Board headquarters in Washington, D.C.

By Camilo Fonseca, Editor-at-large

Emerson’s staff union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last month, charging the college with unfair labor practices.

The case was filed on March 16 by SEIU Local 888, which represents Emerson’s 140 staff members as well as thousands of other Boston-area workers. It alleges that Emerson sought to hire non-union workers without union approval—a violation of existing federal labor laws.

The issue emerged last fall, when the college indicated it was looking into the possibility of hiring employees to perform bargaining unit work (i.e. work performed by union members) outside of Massachusetts. 

According to documents obtained by The Beacon, the college felt such employees, by virtue of working out-of-state, did not have to be included in the staff union. Allegedly, the college said it would only include them if the union agreed to “certain changes” to the collective bargaining agreement that governs employer-employee relations.

The complaint goes on to state that the college went on to hire non-union workers earlier this year, on the grounds that they were “out-of-state.” The case is currently under investigation by NLRB officials.

The college’s bargaining unit excludes individuals in supervisor or managerial roles as well as “temporary” employees, according to the college’s website. The page goes on to note that the college and the union may disagree on bargaining unit status.

“If there is a disagreement on a position, ultimately, the NLRB determines whether you are a member of the proposed bargaining unit and eligible to vote in the election,” the website states.

It is unclear how the dispute will affect the ongoing CBA negotiations between the union and the college. The previous agreement expired in September 2021—around the same time the union was notified of the out-of-state hiring—but has been extended several times.

Staff Union President Dennis Levine declined to comment on the case; he cited a desire not to “jeopardize the progress” made in negotiations.

“We are currently in negotiations to settle the issue and hope to have an amicable resolution to the issue,” he said.

The case has the potential to be used as leverage in the negotiation process.

“The college is working diligently with the SEIU on this issue, which involves rather technical issues of labor law and contract interpretation,” said college spokesperson Michelle Gaseau. “We are hopeful that we can address it cooperatively.”

The complaint is not the first to be levied against the college in recent years. In March 2018, the staff union filed a federal suit accusing the college of bad faith bargaining, as well as unapproved changes in terms of employment. 

That case was withdrawn two months later, without an official NLRB decision.