Union members invite prospective students to picture themselves working at Emerson


Union members wore picture frames featuring descriptions of the issues they face. Photo courtesy of Estelle Ticktin

By Max Reyes

Union members wore picture frames featuring descriptions of the issues they face. Photo courtesy of Estelle Ticktin

Members of the college’s staff union gathered outside of the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Saturday morning wearing stylized picture frames around their necks to raise awareness  of the issues they face among students visiting the college for Picture Yourself at Emerson Day.

The frames bore inscriptions like “I spend half my salary on rent,” “I commute an hour [because] I can’t afford to live in Boston,” and “I do the same job as a man, but get paid less.”

Staff members also handed out flyers and buttons. The flyers were captioned “Picture Yourself Working at Emerson” and described in more detail specific problems staff members face, while the stickers read “I support the Emerson staff union—Fair Wages Now, Solidarity Forever.”

Seven members of the college’s branch of Service Employees International Union Local 888 and three union organizers were present. The demonstration began at around 8:30 a.m. as accepted students filed into the Cutler Majestic Theatre to listen to a speech from President M. Lee Pelton to commence Picture Yourself at Emerson Day.

Instructional Technologist and SEIU Local 888 bargaining committee member Illona Yukhayev said the phrases on the picture-frame signs referred to issues the staff union wanted to address.

Yukhayev also said the intent of the demonstration was to incite action on the part of the Emerson community to help the union address those problems.

“We’ve been trying to do this at the table, and negotiate and reason, but it has not been very productive,” Yukhayev said. “I think the only thing we can rely on is community support, and probably the most powerful community members at this point are recently admitted students.”

Korina Figueroa, instructional technologist and bargaining committee member, said prospective students and even bystanders showed support during the demonstration.

“Even walking over to the Majestic from where we had our meeting point, there was someone who came out of Dunkin’ Donuts … and he was like ‘I love unions’ and he just walked with us towards the Majestic,” Figueroa said.

The demonstration took place a little less than a week before the next negotiation session between the union’s bargaining committee and college officials. The session is scheduled for Thursday.

This coming session will be the latest in a series of meetings that have been peppered throughout the 20-month-long contract negotiation process.

Ron Patenaude, an organizer for the union, estimated there have been more than 30 negotiations between the committee and the college since the process started. The Beacon previously reported there had been at least 20 negotiations by Nov. 7 of last year.

This is not the first protest organized by the staff union. Last October, they protested low wages and unequal payment among long-standing and new employees outside of the Dining Center. In December, union members waited inside SEIU Local 888’s headquarters for college officials participating in another negotiation session.

In a statement, the college wrote it respects the rights of its employees to bargain collectively and supports the college-community’s rights of free speech and assembly.