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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

‘This is life-changing’: Emerson faculty union and college reach new collective bargaining agreement

Rachel Choi

After working off-contract for more than half a year and making gradual progress in negotiations, Emerson’s full-time faculty union ratified the “life-changing” terms of a new collective bargaining agreement with the college at the start of the month. 

The vote saw high enthusiasm with 179-2 members of the faculty union agreeing to the new contract which secured substantial salary increases that members said would boost morale in drawing and retaining new faculty. The contract also promises to double transit subsidies for the MBTA and commuter rail, offer a one-time process for term faculty to transfer to the tenure track, increase support for directed studies, and continue conversations between the union and college to work in tandem on other issues. 

Going into immediate effect, the contract expires at the end of June 2028.

“The increases we were able to obtain for newish assistant professors … we have received emails from [them] saying this is life-changing,” said Russell Newman, president of the Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECCAAUP). “It’s one of the most significant upgrades we’ve had to our collective bargaining agreement in many years.” 

The newly-negotiated salaries are retroactive to the beginning of the academic year, Newman said, meaning the college will “make up ground” for how much faculty have been paid and what they should be earning based on their new salary for the last few months. The overall salary spent in the new contract—all the money paid to full-time faculty (including salaries and bonuses) by the college—is over 13 percent more than what it spent during the 2022-23 academic year, according to Newman. 

The contract established a new set of salary minimums across the board, Newman said, with faculty at the lower end of salary schedules receiving a greater boost. 

In the second and third years of the contract, every faculty member will receive one-time bonuses: $2,000 will be disbursed in the 2024-2025 academic year, while the 2026-2027 year will pay out over $1,600, Newman said. 

The faculty union also innovated a new “living grid” with the college that will grow over the life of the contract. For the next four years, introductory pay for an assistant professor, or term line professor, will continually grow by as much as 2 percent, Newman said, which will enable the college to stay competitive as inflation continues to march upward.

In the first year of the contract, faculty will start seeing gains in their salaries, with associate professors gaining 9 percent, full-term professors over 5 percent, and term faculty over 19 percent. Additionally, Newman said all faculty members’ base pay will receive a cost of living increase each year that follows inflation. 

“We were able to secure significant enough increases to salary, particularly at the lower ends of our pay scales,” Newman said. “In terms of drawing new faculty trying to hire to the college, folks feeling good about staying and the college retaining its talent, it’s all tremendous.”

The contract ratification vote concludes a yearlong process to negotiate the contract. During this time, the faculty union was working off-contract for over six months after their previous contract ended in June 2023. The ECCAAUP began talks for the terms of a new contract in November 2022 in advance of the June expiration date, but the bulk didn’t begin in “earnest” until last May, Newman said. 

Throughout the last contract, which began in 2018 and had been officially extended by one year on the heels of the pandemic, Newman said, it was apparent that Emerson’s pay scales needed to be adjusted to compete with institutions in Boston and the region. Salaries had “stagnated” due to inflation and were not balanced to match the increased workloads the pandemic brought on. Negotiations for the new contract focused on preventing inequities from taking hold of faculty pay, he said.

“Salary scales had stagnated, which made it very difficult to bring new faculty on board full-time,” Newman said. “And it was increasingly difficult to retain faculty who were here.” 

December was a productive time for negotiation discussions and agreements started to largely fall into place, addressing concerns presented at the bargaining table, Newman said. Slowly but surely, both parties made “constructive progress toward a final conclusion.”

“The agreement reached between the college and the faculty union reflects the shared values of the Emerson community,” the college said in a joint statement with the faculty union on Emerson Today. “Throughout contract negotiations, the college and the union remained collaborative and committed to finding solutions to the proposed changes they sought for economic and non-economic provisions in this new agreement.”

When asked to provide additional comment, the college referred the Beacon to the Emerson Today statement.

While the contract’s main sticking point was higher pay, Newman said the agreement’s additional negotiations are equally as transformative to the lives and workloads of faculty members. 

According to Newman, public transit subsidies will increase within 120 days to $90 per month, with an additional rise in parking benefits. The cost of living in the city is challenging, Newman said, and the mass transit subsidies will provide a “huge relief” for faculty who travel in.

“If you live in the city, you know your entire T pass is now covered,” Newman said. “If you’re someone like me who comes in from just outside Providence, that pretty much cuts my transportation costs into town in half.”

Faculty will now be paid $1,000 per student for directed studies, according to Newman. Challengingly over the last few years, Newman said students have been asking their professors to conduct semester-long, independent studies in particular skills or backgrounds outside of the classroom, but undertaking such a project would mean extra work without any remuneration.

But now, with these additions for further academia, Newman said, “It becomes a lot easier for us to work with students who are interested in the areas that we might be experts but aren’t necessarily offering a class in.”

Newman said the college also made good on its promise to offer an optional, one-time process for term-line faculty to transfer to the tenure track. In this offer, term faculty, who have been at the college for five years or more in full-time service can discuss with their chairs, deans, and the provost to elect to become tenure-line faculty. 

The new collective bargaining agreement also brings in the enhancement of short-term disability coverage and equal treatment of term and tenure-line faculty. 

Moving forward, the college and the ECCAAUP will continue their collaboration and conversations in online course development. 

“There’s a lot that is life-changing in this contract in very positive ways that not only strengthen the college but enable the college to project strength,” Newman said. “I couldn’t be more pleased. And I’m glad that the membership also recognized it as a significant step forward.”

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About the Contributor
Olivia LeDuc, News Editor
Olivia LeDuc (she/her) is a journalism student and assistant editor for the campus coverage of The Beacon’s news section. When she’s not reporting, you can find her crocheting or going on yet another long walk in the city.

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