Demands job protections, engagement with students, staff, and faculty on reopening campuses
Sent Wednesday, May 06, 2020 by email
Dear President Meehan,
The UMass community has not been spared the impacts —from illness to economic loss —of the coronavirus pandemic. But with the incredible efforts and sacrifices made by UMass staff, faculty, and students, including essential personnel, and with assistance from the federal and state government, we are weathering this storm fairly well. Our current budget for FY2020 is only off by about 1% system wide, with some divisions of UMass showing no net losses. FY2021, however, might be more difficult absent robust aid and prudent planning.
COVID-19 hit our state quickly and with great force at a time when most campus unions were heading into successor negotiations on their three-year contracts. As it stands, bargaining across the Commonwealth has slowed for most units, just as the unions are being asked to make major concessions or changes to members’ wages, hours, and working conditions. Within UMass, communication and transparency with the unions and bargaining unit employees varies by campus and even by bargaining unit. Nonetheless, the unions are engaged, working collaboratively, and prepared to continue helping UMass maintain the quality so many of us have worked hard to achieve.
The unions representing staff and faculty across the UMass campuses believe that if all of the partners in the system stand together, UMass will emerge from this current crisis stronger. The COVID-19 pandemic cannot force us to change our goal of being a thriving, accessible, world-class center for excellence in education, research, scholarship, and service, as well as an economic and social-mobility engine for the Commonwealth and a model employer. As we all know, one of the best investments a society can make is in the education of its people. Furthermore, to revive our economy, it will be crucial for the state, with federal assistance, to support the jobs, facilities, and services that make up our public sector and particularly the higher education system. As partners in this eventual success, we ask that you agree to do the following:
- Acknowledging the contributions of the university system to the quality of life in the state and that UMass is a public good needed most in times of crisis, commit to NOT cutting programs, people, or services.
- Utilize non-personnel cost saving measures to address budget shortfalls. The administration should open their books and discuss cost saving measures with the unions such as re-negotiating debt interest, ending contracts with external consultants and attorneys, in-sourcing campus projects, and cutting administration salaries. Seek to achieve balance in the FY2020 budget through cuts, savings, and windfalls that do not impact employee wages and benefits.
- Maintain existing employment appointments for graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and faculty. Commit to full employment in the fall for student workers, graduate employees, faculty at all levels, and staff. The savings yielded by reducing the employment does not justify the economic impact on the individuals affected by such cuts. UMass receives tremendous value from these appointments and it would destabilize these positions by reducing or eliminating the funding that supports them. Should the campus remain closed in the fall, all employees must be offered the option of remote work with full pay.
- Bargain any personnel cost saving measures with the unions. Open and transparent collaboration around cost-savings measures that minimize harmful impacts on employees should characterize such negotiations. Such measures should only be under circumstances where employees are held harmless and are voluntarily accepting incentives such as time off, separation incentives, or benefits. Personnel absences should not transfer workload burden to other employees.
- Stand with the UMass Unions Coalition in advocating to secure federal and state funding to sustain public higher education. A robust public workforce and education system benefits everyone and will help secure a healthy economic future for the Commonwealth. These funds should go towards preserving campus jobs, providing debt-free education to students, and forgiving student and campus capital debt.
- Advocate for and prepare to use reserves to cover possible shortfalls in the coming fiscal year. The Stabilization Fund kept in reserves by the UMass Board of Trustees is meant to cover just these types of circumstances.
- Jointly determine plans for reopening campus. UMass administration must engage faculty, staff, and students to jointly determine and make publicly accessible all plans to reopen campus, and/or plans to continue online education if it is not safe to reopen, in Fall 2020. The planning process should be made transparent and accessible to the public so that community members can have an idea as to possible expectations for Fall 2020.
- Guarantee accountable use of relief funding. All relief funding for higher education from federal, state, and local governments shall be distributed transparently according to principles of shared governance, with the campus administration, faculty, staff, and students jointly determining the best use of relief funds. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on our request.
On Behalf of the UMass Unions United,
Cynthia “Cindy” Costa, President, AFSCME Local 507, UMass Dartmouth
LeeAnn Robinson, President, AFSCME Local 1776, UMass Amherst
Miguel Neves, President, AFT Maintainers, Local 6350, UMass Dartmouth
Janelle Quarles, President, Classified Staff Union, UMass Boston
Christos Protonotarios, Interim President, Classified & Technical Unit, UMass Lowell
Verena I. Lisinski, Chair, Educational Services Unit, AFT Local 1895, UMass Dartmouth
Grant O’Rielly, President, Faculty Federation, AFT Local 1895, UMass Dartmouth
Faculty Staff Union Core Bargaining Team, UMass Boston
Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee, UMass Boston
Kathy Melish, President, Graduate Employee Organization, UAW 1596, UMass Boston and Lowell
Scott Fulmer, President, Grant & Contract Funded Employees Association (GRACE), UMass Lowell
Henry Cornu, President, Maintenance & Trades Unit, UMass Lowell
Eve Weinbaum, President, Massachusetts Society of Professors, UMass Amherst
Carol McDonough, President, Massachusetts Society of Professors, UMass Lowell
The Joint Executive Committee of the Professional Staff Union, UMass Amherst and Boston
Nicholas Piscitello, Chapter President, SEIU Local 888 Professional, UMass Lowell
Jameal Jackson, Co-President, SHARE/AFSCME Local 4000, UMass Medical School
Ellen Michaud Martins, President, Union of Adjunct Faculty, UAW Local 1596, UMass Lowell
Anais Surkin, President UAW 2322,
Anna-Claire Steffen, Union Rep., Postdoctoral Researchers Organizing,
Jyoti Iyer, Co-Chair, Graduate Employee Organization,
James Cordero, Co-Chair, Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union, UAW2322, UMass Amherst
Leslie Marsland, President, University Staff Association, UMass Amherst
cc: Chairman Manning