This is an important year for the Emerson College Staff Union.
The group plans to start renegotiating their contract with the school next spring. They held a meet-and-greet event on Feb. 14 at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery to talk to prospective members about joining the union because surprisingly, only three departments are in the Staff Union—Information Technology, Academic Affairs, and Institutional Advancement.
The Staff Union has a long history of fighting the school administration, including two years of protest, unfair labor charges, and petitioning before they received their contract. In a Beacon article from March 2018, the staff union accused the college with unfair labor practice charges. They complained of “college representatives failing to bargain in good faith and violating employees’ rights to engage in collective bargaining.”
Shortly after, in October, the school started distributing the demands and benefits listed in the collective bargaining agreement by removing merit pay, providing a monthly commuter benefit, launching a shared sick program for union members, and agreeing to elevate union member’s wages to the 40th percentile. But the school administration also hired a known union-busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, without communicating with staff members that same month. A report from The Chicago-based nonprofit magazine In These Times called Jackson Lewis “the number one union-buster in America.”
The school does not promote a welcoming environment for unions. Before the first staff contract ratification, the wages of staff members were less than 75 percent that of similar employee wages in peer schools like Brandeis University and Skidmore College, according to a staff compensation survey. We believe this is an unfair practice. Even though the previous contract was an improvement, with only around 100 people from the three departments actively participating in the union, there are more concerns not being raised to the Staff Union to make a real difference.
We support staff members at Emerson College to join the Staff Union, we support the important work that the Union does to support people across campus, and we encourage those who have not yet joined to be part of the Union. At the same time, the school administration should not create a hostile environment for unions and avoid preventing union organizing efforts.
We have many people working hard on this campus to bring the “Emerson experience” to students and employees. The dining center workers bring us three meals a day and cater for different events. The facilities department fixes our property and makes sure our campus is running smoothly. In addition to countless efforts we are probably unaware of, staff members help students with their finances, jobs, and internships, help athletes with their training, make sure academic departments operate on a daily basis, and help the school with enrollment and admission.
It’s sad to see that just two years ago, these staff members were still fighting for simple things, like higher wages, commuter benefits, equal treatment, and the ability to donate sick-time when a fellow staff member needs an extended sick-leave. What about other departments that are not being represented, and those staff members who are too afraid to speak up and join the union? They make up an even bigger part of this school, and without them telling the union what they need, how can the school improve their treatment and their “Emerson experience?”
The number of attendees at the Feb. 14 meet-and-greet is unclear, but according to Christopher Wilson—one of the event’s organizers and a journalism department union member—there was a “decent turnout.” Members of non-unionized departments also attended, which is promising for next year’s contract ratification.
We can’t change the fact that the school already hired a union-busting law firm. But by encouraging staff to join the Union so that they can list their demands and work toward creating an improved working environment, we can change how the school treats an indispensable part of our community.
Correction Feb. 20: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the staff union has sued the college. This has been corrected.