Emerson staff rallies against merit pay

The Emerson Staff Union’s mobilization of workers and the wider school community culminated with a raucous May Day rally along Tremont Street in downtown Boston. At the rally, Local 888 members presented the college’s president with a petition demanding the school give the staff a fair contract.

Emerson President Lee Pelton came down from his 14th floor office to meet and hear from the demonstrators.

“We’re only looking for fairness, job security, a livable wage and a decent contract,” Emerson graduate studies program coordinator Shaylin Hogan told the crowd.

Emerson sophomore Denis Yudin called on the college to provide equal pay for women and a fair wage for the school’s staff. “They deserve better.” He thanked demonstrators, noting that “May 1 is a day honored in history as a day of action.”

At the end of the rally, media arts program coordinator John-Albert Moseley presented Pelton with the petition, emphasizing that “many of the signatures are from your own alumni.” In turn, Pelton promised to be there at the bargaining table, for the first time, at the next session.

In an interview, copy editor Nancy Howell called the rally a success. “We had excellent support from faculty, students and union members.”

Costume shop supervisor Richelle Murray said, “I was really surprised that the president came down to meet us.” While it was an encouraging sign, the bargaining committee member said that so-called “merit pay” is the main sticking point. “They want to able to decide who gets raises out of a special pool of money.”

Union members, however, point out that merit pay is an unfair system that has resulted in women being paid less than men. And this unequal pay is at odds with the image Emerson likes to project, said Local 888 field representative Ronald Patenaude. “Sadly, Emerson has behaved more like a corporate behemoth with only a façade of being liberal and progressive.”

As part of its contract campaign, Emerson staffers had organized several recent rallies, including actions targeting prospective students as they visited this spring. The “Picture Yourself Working at Emerson College” campaign featured photos of dedicated staffers airing their grievances over low pay and gender inequalities in compensation.

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