Student and staff unions host joint Town Hall



By Roe Medovoi-Klotz

On Tuesday night, approximately 20 members of the Emerson College Staff and Student Unions gathered in the SPC Black Box Theater to host an open forum and discuss issues such as equitable pay, understaffing, and lack of financial transparency at Emerson. 

The meeting was hosted to get students involved in and aware of the political negotiations at Emerson that actively affect them, according to Dylan Young, a sophomore visual media arts major and ECSU’s chairman of digital output, deputy chairman of grassroots output, and media organizer.

“[Our main goal] is to not only connect students with the union struggles at campus… but to understand that the issues affecting staff and students are one and the same,” Young said in an interview with The Beacon.

The prevailing issue among those discussed was the matter of faculty wages and financial undercompensation within the Emerson staff. 

“We are being underpaid in comparison to a lot of peer institutions,” said Isobel Roumovsky, instructor technologist at Emerson and Chief Steward of the Union. “They always want to move us to what is considered ‘competitive’ but they do it over so many years that it’s no longer relevant.”

Roumvski described Tuesday’s negotiations for a salary and wages increase higher than the 3.5% being offered as part of the 2022 Emerson Staff Compensation Plan. Ideally, salary and wages should accurately reflect a cost of living adjustment (COLA), and compensate workers for inflation that affects basic expenses such as rent and food. 

“Everybody needs to be paid equitably and fairly, according to market conditions,” Roumovski said. “They need to be making living wages.” 

After much negotiation, Emerson Finance Department responded by increasing the 3.5% to 3.6%, a miniscule change Roumovsky described as “insulting” to the Union efforts. This lack of clear communication and effective response from the Emerson administration is not uncommon during negotiations, she said.

“Overall [the demands] we have been asking for have been [ignored],” she said. “Management has been coming back with counters that [are] working ever so slightly towards what we are asking for… but on a week-to-week basis, negotiations have been moving ever so slowly.” 

Union organizers also raised the issue of financial transparency, as students remain in the dark as to how the majority of their tuition funds are being  used. 

“We are demanding full financial and administrative transparency from the college,” Young said. “We are not to be economically exploited as a cost of tuition… and we as a collective don’t think that every dollar we’re spending is necessary.”

“Emerson is relatively unique in the fact that they publicize none of their multi-hundred-million-dollar endowment,” according to the Student Union’s website. “As the students who contribute 89% of their profit, we have a right to know where our money is going.”

Beyond financial matters, Union organizers are equally worried about student health and safety on campus. A major concern raised within the Town Halls was the lack of more serious COVID-19 protocols, such as designated isolation rooms or weekly testing sites—policies that were in place one year ago.   

“We have gone from mandatory testing to not even providing testing for people who have COVID,” said Dylan Butcher, a student organizer. 

Butcher also noted that given how much students are paying in tuition, it’s “embarrassing” that Emerson is asking students to donate meal swipes for other students who are food insecure. 

“We pay so much money for [The Emerson Administration] not to cover our basic needs,” said  Max Eberie, a sophomore VMA major and fellow student union organizer.

As more students pourpour onto campus this fall and faculty pay remains the same, the union staff has suffered the brunt of this economic hardship. The turnover rate has been a whopping 39% over the past two years, according to membership records. 

“We’re whittling down our institution,” Young said. “We’re leaving less money to the staff, which [manifests itself] as having less people in the staff. And then we’re trying to make more money by enrolling more students. It’s just becoming unstable.”

Throughout the town hall, staff union members reported being underpaid, overworked, and feeling taken for granted. According to a survey, more than half of workers within higher education plan to leave their jobs within the next year, citing low pay and stressful working conditions.

This trend is not exclusive to Emerson, which has witnessed a net 2% of full-time staff leave in search of higher paying employment between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. The union’s self-described goal is to make sure staff and faculty are treated fairly and prevent this trend from escalating further. 

The Staff Union’s three main goals are to reduce tuition, make mental health care resources more accessible on campus, and to be an ally to the staff struggle. Their other goals and further elaboration can be found on the Student Union’s website.

While these demands are still subject to ongoing negotiations with the Emerson board of directors and future president, members of the staff union such as Roumovoski remain optimistic about making Emerson a better place for staff and students alike. 

“After a long day of negotiating… it’s been really nice to spend time with so much support in one room, working towards something really positive,” she said.