Affiliated Faculty Unionization FAQ
Emerson College is committed to providing faculty with thorough, accurate information. The College will update this website with new information and updates as the unionization process moves forward. At any time, if you have questions or concerns please contact
You can also submit questions to Human Resources. We are interested in hearing from you. If you have a question about union organizing, collective bargaining, or labor relations, we'll do our best to answer it. You may submit your question anonymously if you wish. Before sending in your question, be sure to check the appropriate topic areas of this website to see whether we’ve already answered the question.
What is the College’s position on unionization?
The National Labor Relations Act gives you the right to organize, form, join or assist a union and engage in other protected concerted activity. The National Labor Relations Act also specifically gives you the right to refrain from engaging in any of these activities. The College respects your free choice under this Act. The College will not discriminate against you because you support or oppose a union. You are part of a well-educated, highly skilled, engaged faculty that is deeply proud of its affiliation with Emerson Los Angeles. As faculty members of a college dedicated to inquiry and critical analysis, we know you will think carefully about the decision to unionize, educate yourselves, and ask wise and probing questions both of the union and of management. Each of you will vote what you sincerely believe to be in your and the College’s best interests. The College will respect the outcome of that vote.
Questions Regarding Union Organizing Process
Is union organizing and related labor relations covered by California law?
No, as a private institution, Emerson College is covered by the federal National Labor Relations Act and is under the jurisdiction of the federal National Labor Relations Board.
What is the process by which a union becomes certified by the NLRB?
To become certified by the NLRB, a union will have to file a petition for representation with the NLRB seeking an election in an appropriate unit of faculty. To do so, the union will have to demonstrate a “showing of interest” that at least 30% of the faculty in that unit are interested in having the union represent them. This showing of interest is satisfied by the submission of membership or authorization cards signed by individual faculty indicating such interest. The authorization card is a legal document. You should read it carefully and be sure all your questions are answered before signing an authorization card. If a union demonstrates to the NLRB that it has such a sufficient showing of interest, then the NLRB will process the petition and will ultimately conduct a secret ballot election to determine if faculty in that unit wish to be represented by the union.
If I sign an authorization card, must I vote for the union if an election is held by the NLRB?
No. You can change your mind after signing (or not signing) an authorization card and vote against (or for) the union after you educate yourself about unionization.
What is the “appropriate bargaining unit” to which you refer?
In this case, it is a group of faculty that share a sufficient community of interest amongst one another with regard to working conditions and is otherwise appropriate for bargaining under the law. As one example, Emerson already has three bargaining units on campus in Boston, one for Emerson police officers and dispatchers, one for Boston-based affiliated faculty, and one for tenure and tenure- track faculty.
Is everybody in the bargaining unit?
No. Under law, certain individuals are excluded from bargaining units. These include supervisors (such as Chairs or Directors), managerial employees (such as the Chief Academic Officer) and confidential employees. Other individuals who are deemed temporary employees are often excluded as well.
Who determines whether I am in the bargaining unit or not?
Both Emerson and the union will have an opinion on whether you are a member of the bargaining unit based on your job functions and connection to the College. Emerson and the union may agree, or we may not. If there is a disagreement on a position, ultimately, the NLRB determines whether you are a member of the proposed bargaining unit and eligible to vote in the election.
If a petition is filed and election conducted, how would it work?
The NLRB will conduct a secret ballot election at ELA either through an in-person vote or by mail. If a mail ballot format is used by the NLRB, you will receive a ballot in the mail and would vote yes or no as to whether you want to be represented by the union and would return it to the NLRB within the prescribed time lines. Only you will know your vote. Once the ballots are returned by the NLRB deadline, the NLRB will then open the ballots and count them.
How is the vote decided?
By a majority of those faculty members who actually vote. For example, if the bargaining unit has 27 members and 11 of them turn out to vote, and the vote is 6 to 5, then those 6 determine the union status of all 27 members of the bargaining unit, and the union is established as the representative of all 27 members. If the union is established, it will be your exclusive representative, even if you voted against the union or simply decided not to vote in the election. You cannot “opt out” of being represented by the union if it wins such an election.
I’ve heard it said that a union may be recognized without an election. Is that true?
Employers may voluntarily recognize unions who have secured signed authorization cards from a majority of employees, but under the National Labor Relations Act, employers are not required to recognize unions based on such cards and can instead insist on an election. Emerson believes that you should have the opportunity to educate yourself about unionization, and that you should be able to vote your true convictions in a secret ballot election, as you do in a political campaign.
If a union is elected, can it be voted out?
Yes, but not easily. Unions do not stand for reelection each year. Most unions remain the representative of the faculty in the unit forever. However, the law does provide a mechanism for holding another election. In order to have such an election and decertify a union, the faculty in the unit must themselves file a decertification petition with the NLRB, along with a 30% showing of interest, just as in the certification process. No decertification election can be held within one year of the initial certification of the union, and the administration cannot participate in any way in helping faculty file such a petition. If properly filed, the NLRB will process the petition and hold another election.
Questions Involving the Workplace with a Union
What does it mean to be unionized?
If the NLRB, after an election, certifies a union as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit of which you are a member, it first and foremost means that the union exclusively represents you on all matters involving wages, benefits, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. It means the College must deal with that union on all such matters and not with you individually with respect to the terms and conditions of your employment.
If ELA faculty are unionized, would I have to join the union?
A. Most union contracts require that you join the union and pay dues, or if you choose not to join the union, to pay the functional equivalent of dues. This provision is called a union shop clause. Under a union shop clause, you must pay your dues in order to remain employed. The AFEC-AAUP contract here in Boston has such a union shop clause.
What happens if I do not want to pay dues?
If the collective bargaining agreement has a union security clause that requires that each member of the unit become union members and/or pay an equivalent fee, the union has the right to insist that you be fired, and the College would be contractually bound to do so. This has occurred at the Boston campus.
How much are dues?
Dues will vary considerably from union to union. Some unions will charge between 1-2% of your salary each year. Others will charge you a flat amount per pay period. Unions revisit dues and raise them from time to time.
Who gets the dues?
Generally some portion of your dues will go to a union’s national headquarters to pay their salaries and administrative cost. You should be sure you understand how much of your dues would stay at Emerson and how much would be sent away.
Are there other costs?
Depending on the union, you may have to pay a special assessment from time to time and may have to pay fees if you violate union rules.
Questions Regarding Collective Bargaining
If a union is elected, what happens next?
At some point, the union and the College would engage in collective bargaining for a master contract, called a collective bargaining agreement, covering you and all the faculty in the bargaining unit.
What is collective bargaining?
It is the process by which an employer and a union negotiate wages, benefits, hours and other terms and conditions of employment for the group represented by the union.
Does the law require that any particular provisions go into a union contract?
No. The law only requires that each side engage in good faith negotiations but the law does not guarantee to employees that any particular provision be part of the contract.
What is “good faith negotiations?”
The National Labor Relations Act defines the duty to bargain as follows: For the purposes of this section, to bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, or the negotiation of an agreement, or any question arising thereunder, and the execution of a written contract incorporating any agreement reached if requested by either party, but such obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession.
How does a union pick a bargaining team? Who decides on the issues and proposals for collective bargaining on the union side? How does a union decide when to modify its proposals or agree to the administration’s proposals?
These are all worthy questions for you to ask union representatives. Each union is its own entity with its own policies, priorities, officers, and internal politics, and each union makes its own decisions regarding these and related questions.
Does the law require that negotiations use the Boston AFEC-AAUP contract as a starting point for negotiations?
Would anything in the Boston AFEC-AAUP contract automatically go into an ELA contract?
Does the law require that negotiations begin with the current wages, hours and working conditions and that only improvements are made to such items?
No. Each side is free to make proposals across the table that may alter the status quo. As a result of collective bargaining, you may end up with more than you have now in some areas, less than you have now, or the same as what you have now. This all depends on the negotiations.
What happens if the parties get stuck and cannot agree on a contract?
The parties might reach an impasse and might call in a federal mediator to assist them. But the mediator has no power to force a settlement or to publicly recommend a settlement. If the mediator fails to bring about an agreement, then either side may decide to use certain economic levers that the law allows, like strikes and lockouts, to force an agreement on the other side. At all times, however, the law does not require either side to agree to any particular demand from the other.
How long does it take to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement?
There is wide variation on this depending on the parties and the issues, but it is common for first contracts to take over a year to complete.
Will I get my regularly scheduled pay raises while the first collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated?
Not necessarily. The law basically requires that the status quo be maintained while the parties are bargaining a first contract, or that any changes during that time must themselves be bargained over.
Can a union bargain over who the supervisors are?
No. The selection of supervisors, managers, Deans, Chairs and administrators is considered to be a managerial prerogative and is not a mandatory subject of bargaining.
Can a union bargain over what courses are offered or what the curriculum of the College should be?
No, again, such matters are not mandatory subjects of bargaining.
I’ve heard it said that a union will give individuals more of a “voice” ... will it?
As a legal matter, as mentioned above, if a union is elected, it becomes your “exclusive” representative with respect to wages, benefits, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The insertion of an outside third party, in the form of a union, between your supervisor and you may potentially limit direct exchanges concerning issues of importance to you.
Will a union’s interests always be aligned with mine?
One can never tell. Because the union is representing a very diverse group of individuals in a single bargaining unit, the union may or may not be reflecting any individual’s preferences, including yours. For example, if you are a less senior employee, you may not like a union’s emphasis that personnel decisions be dictated by seniority rather than effort and performance. The union is your agent for better or worse and is beholden to the unit as a whole, not to any individual employee. This is why it is important for you to consider whether you want to turn over such matters to a union business agent or union officers.