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

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Student support surges for Emerson Union for Resident Assistants amid recognition denial

Student+support+surges+for+Emerson+Union+for+Resident+Assistants+amid+recognition+denial
Arthur Mansavage

On Friday, the Emerson Union for Resident Assistants (EURA) and members of the Emerson College Students’ Union (ECSU) organized a rally commencing at the Boylston T stop and concluding near the 2B alley. The demonstration was centered around the college officials’ announcement on Thursday refusing to recognize the RA union despite over 85 percent of its members voting in favor of its establishment.

During the rally, union organizers, current and former resident assistants, as well as students took turns at the microphone to express grievances with the college’s decision and show support for their RAs.

Anthony Paladino, a senior media arts production major and second-year RA, addressed the crowd, stating, “They could voluntarily recognize us. They chose not to recognize us.” Paladino emphasized that the college’s strategy appears to be waiting until many union leaders graduate, so they won’t have to compromise. “But we are not doing that,” they said.

In an interview with the Beacon, Drake Skelly, a second-year RA in the Little Building, expressed concern about Emerson’s decision not to recognize the union, stating, “It’s concerning for sure; we just want to be here so we can be better for everyone involved.” 

Skelly emphasized the union’s desire for a greater role in defining their job requirements.

“We need to have a say in our agreement. It’s not a contract that we signed—I love to throw in the word ‘contract,’ but it’s not a legally binding contract,” Skelly said. “It’s an agreement where we have no bargaining power.”

Adding a lighthearted touch, Paladino recounted how over 20 RAs nervously walked to President Jay Bernhardt’s office to hand-deliver a letter requesting voluntary recognition. In response, Bernhardt asked, “How did you guys like your sweaters?”

“Sweaters that we did not have at the time, and are see-through!” Paladino said, laughing. However, in a more serious tone, Paladino explained that the union’s support comes from the majority of the RA workforce.

About 2,718 people in the Emerson community have already signed the union’s petition, underscoring what some, such as Nicholas Renteria, a third-year RA and EURA representative, believe—that this issue involves the entire Emerson student body.

“How can the college do better for [students]?” asked Renteria. “For example, every time I send my residents over to ECAPS, I know I’m sending them to a line that is days long for the therapist. How am I supposed to support my residents when I know that what I am sending them to will not work for them?”

Renteria clarified that when RAs lack support and feel unheard, the same sentiment extends to the entire student body. 

“We are not just fighting for us, we are fighting for them as well,” Renteria said. “All of these offices that we refer people to need to be held accountable and need to be promoted for the work that they do.”

Renteria and others who took the stand also described the long, often unpredictable on-call hours that come with their job as RAs as well as the ‘overwhelming’ and sometimes unmanageable responsibilities, including assisting students in serious mental health crises.

Junior Xander Toti engaged the crowd by asking how many current RAs have more than one job. More than half of the crowd raised their hands.

“We are full-time students and full-time workers,” said Toti. “That is too much to ask of people in their young 20s.”

“We are the first line of defense for Emerson College. If a student is having a mental health crisis, they are not calling the police, they are calling us first,” added Skelly. “I am 21 years old, I don’t always know who to call.”

Some shared anecdotes of being on-call, such as Renteria, who recalled having to wake up at 3 a.m. one day during finals week to clean up a resident’s vomit. 

“We are on call 24/7,” he said. “We might not be holding that phone, but we are always responsible for the people around us. We are working every day and every hour of our lives and we aren’t even paid for it.”

Many attendees emphasized their belief that Emerson’s response is not a deterrent but rather serves to reinforce their message.

“I think this school is purposefully trying to show the student body that their treatment of unions is not going to go easily,” said Dylan Young, the national chair of development for ECSU. “But students don’t have the same kind of backing with the National Labor Relations Corps that the RAs will as workers. They don’t have full rights like most workers do, but we think that this is the first step in us trying to create multiple undergraduate workplace unions on campus.”

Sophie Severs, a junior and second-year RA in the Little Building, and Jules Saggio, a junior and second-year RA in Piano Row, talked about how the union wanted to continue working with Emerson.

“The union doesn’t exist to antagonize the college and make life more difficult, but instead to work with the college for mutually beneficial results,” said Severs. “Biting the hand that feeds us is not productive for our cause.”

“We’d love to have an open dialogue with the college about the policies pertaining to this role, so RAs can be better understood as both employees and students,” explained Saggio.

As the crowd at Boylston fizzled, those remaining marched along with junior ECSU co-chair David Szadic, chanting “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” towards 2B alley. Once there, students briefly shared the mic to discuss their grievances with the college’s financial aid status and failure to recognize their unions.

“It’s very disheartening to see so many people being mistreated in the same way across this campus, and it’s shameful,” said Szadic. In a more optimistic tone, Szadic took a moment to recognize EURA and referred to Emerson as a more “unionized campus.”

“We have a responsibility and we have a right to know what is being done with our money, why decisions are being made, and we have a right to make those decisions for ourselves,” said Szadic.

As chants and laughter continued, and students passed the microphone around, Szadic finished the rally by stating, “We can be just another cog in the system. Let’s break the system.”

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About the Contributor
Shannon Garrido, Editor-in-chief
Shannon Andera Garrido Berges (she/her) currently serves as editor-in-chief, formerly she managed global content and covers news centered around the Caribbean. Her interests include Dominican politics, pop culture, and environmental reporting. She is an undergrad at Emerson College, majoring in Journalism.
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