Staff union petitions for overdue salary increases

The+Emerson+Staff+Union+is+hoping+to+have+some+of+their+sacrificed+benefits+reinstated%2C+especially+for+some+of+the+at-risk+staff+members.

Photo: The Berkeley Beacon Archives

The Emerson Staff Union is hoping to have some of their sacrificed benefits reinstated, especially for some of the at-risk staff members.

By Bailey Allen, Deputy Enterprise Editor

Almost a year after college administrators promised to give all staff the annual 3.9 percent salary increase agreed upon during the union’s 2018 collective bargaining agreement, members of the Emerson College Staff Union are petitioning to get their negotiated raises back at last.  

Staff were set to receive their 3.9 percent raise on Oct. 1, 2020, but agreed to have it delayed along with other benefits to assist in offsetting the $33-76 million in projected COVID-19 related losses over the 2021 fiscal year, according to Union Chair Dennis Levine. 

The bargaining agreement was set to be revisited in June of this year if the college had returned to a stable financial standing, which Vice President for Administration and Finance Paul Dworkis seemed to indicate the college had in March. But, with no word on when the raise would take effect, union members took actions into their own hands by creating a change.org petition that has garnered 519 signatures since the date of publication.

“We sacrificed our benefits to save jobs,” the petition said. “We also agreed to delay our raises until the financial outlook of the College was more clear. Now, even with record high enrollment, management still refuses to pay us our contractually agreed upon raises.”

In an attempt to make amends, a three percent one-time payment was offered to all staff members—including union members—by the college in August as an alternative to a salary increase, according to Levine. Union members decided against taking the payment, as it was not in keeping with the original bargaining agreement that they had signed.

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“Currently, we have some proposals before us that have been given to us by management, that our members are going to look at and take a vote on to determine where we go with that,” he said. “We shall see.”

The proposals range anywhere from the three percent one-time payment to a partial, smaller one-time payment, and a series of step raises—increases from one pay rate to the next higher rate within the established salary range, according to Law Insider—over the next two years.

The union will not make any counter-proposals, according to the union’s chief steward, Korina Figueroa.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t see the school making a lot of adjustments,” Levine said.

Parents, students, alumni, current staff and non-union members at the college have all offered their support to the union by signing the petition and leaving encouraging comments. 

“I support the people who support my student,” Amanda Dine Gamble, an Emerson parent, commented on the change.com petition.

“I’m an alum and this is shameful behavior from the school,” wrote Jessica Kiernan-Maillard on the petition.

With a two percent increase in tuition implemented in light of the pandemic on March 18, Levine said he does not feel confident that the money will go to the staff. 

“Just because there’s a [tuition increase] doesn’t mean that the school is going to allocate that money for salaries,” he said. “From the union perspective, we were not looking at that [tuition increase] as going to help pay for our raise that we should have been getting.”

A key point of frustration emerged when the college was able to secure enough funding to renovate every bathroom on all 13 stories of the Ansin Building, instead of prioritizing benefits for staff members, according to the union’s post on the petition website.

The website also says that the college plans to spend tens of thousands of dollars to replace wall clocks in classrooms instead of prioritizing staff.

Despite the frustration, Levine said that going on strike will be the last resort.

“Going on a strike is a nuclear option that obviously we want to avoid, and I’m fairly certain that the school wants to avoid,” he said. “We’re probably not going to strike over the 3.9 percent that they owe us. We’re currently trying to work with them to come up with some kind of alternate proposal.”