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Occupy organizers create advocacy group

by Karen Morales / Beacon Correspondent • October 4, 2012

A newly formed student group, Progressives and Radicals in Defense of Employees (PRIDE), hopes to give a voice to security guards, dining hall workers, and maintenance workers at the college. 

According to The Boston Globe, unionized maintenance workers across New England prepared a protest this past Monday in anticipation of their contracts expiring on Sept. 30. They demanded a new contract  that would offer more full-time hours, along with other benefits.

“Initially we were preparing for a strike,” said Nicki Morris, a sophomore theatrer studies and marketing communication double major and member of PRIDE. “We were planning on setting up food drives and setting up donation boxes if it led to that, but it didn’t, luckily.”

The Service Employees International Union, which represents those maintenance workers, tried to negotiate with Maintenance Contractors of New England for an agreement to guarantee the workers’ rights, but discussions had been fruitless up until early Monday morning, reported The Boston Globe.

A strike was averted as negotiators and contractors reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract. The possible contract will raise the number of full-time jobs and increase wages, The Boston Globe article said. 

Morris said that members of PRIDE have been communicating with Emerson janitors. Before the recent contract agreement, PRIDE was working with them to discuss a possible strike.

According to Morris, the idea for PRIDE was formed over the summer when she and her friend Mark Rizzo, a senior political communication and marketing communication double major, got in contact with a union organizer, who they had met through various protests including Occupy Boston. The union organizer informed them about the janitors’ contract issues and urged them to rally students at Emerson to create support. 

The group has 70 students on its email list, but the turnout at its meetings varies, said Emma MacDonald, a junior marketing communication major and PRIDE member. The most recent meeting had a turnout of 15-20 students. 

PRIDE is not SGA recognized, MacDonald said, and isn’t interested in seeking recognition.

“I think it goes with our philosophy of working beyond the system,” said Morris. 

Suzi Pietroluongo, a junior theater education major, is excited for PRIDE’s next steps in light of the newly drafted contract.

“I really want to continue building this relationship with our janitors, because I don’t want to be a fair-weather friend,” she said, “I want to be there for them all the time.” 

“A few of us had a meeting with President Lee Pelton to discuss these workers,”  said MacDonald. “He supports [PRIDE] and will put out a statement in a few days basically bringing to light that the janitors’ contract was successful in the negotiations.”

Pietroluongo said her participation isn’t for her own personal gain, but for the benefit of others. 

“The janitors at Emerson College, the people picking our food, the teachers working in public schools … those are the people who make our world run, and those are the people who need to have the power back,” she said.

“We’re trying to give power to people who think they don’t have any.” said Morris.

McDonald said the members of PRIDE became aware of the issues affecting the working class through working with Occupy Boston. 

 “PRIDE is not Occupy, it’s more about where Occupiers are going into the future.,” Morris said. “Just because Occupy is done, doesn’t mean activism is done. It launched us here with what we’re doing on our campus.”