Governor Patrick ensures funding for the contracts of MTA higher ed members

With the stroke of a pen, Governor Deval Patrick ensured funding for the contracts of thousands of MTA members who work as faculty, librarians and staff at higher education institutions all over Massachusetts.

On Oct. 15, Patrick put his signature on a $420 million bill that included approximately $8 million in funding for three-year contracts for public employees at UMass, the state universities and the community colleges.

“This is extremely welcome news for MTA higher ed members — I’m happy to be able to put this contract struggle behind us,” said Joseph LeBlanc, chairman of the MTA’s Higher Education Leadership Council and president of the Massachusetts Community College Council. “Now we can turn our attention to more pressing issues, including getting Governor Patrick re-elected to office and defeating Question 3, which would dramatically cut the sales tax at a time when public higher education needs more funding, not less.”

The struggle for signed and secured contract funding was lengthy. It included meetings with legislators and the governor, along with rallies, pickets and other targeted actions.

The agreements now in place were initially settled in 2009 and sent on to the governor, who submitted contract funding bills to the Legislature for approval. Legislators, however, did not act on those bills, and they sat for months.

Acknowledging the financial difficulties facing the state, MTA higher ed leaders more recently agreed to postpone each of the negotiated raises for an additional year.

The contract funding was included in a spending package sent to the House floor in September. Once the bill was there, some dramatic moments ensued. Representative Karyn Polito, a Shrewsbury Republican and candidate for state treasurer, singlehandedly held up passage of the spending bill for a week, effectively holding it hostage.

In September, the Legislature was meeting in informal session, which means that a single legislator can block passage, as Polito did.

The bill passed the House on Oct. 4 — with the support of both Republicans and Democrats — after Polito arrived late to the morning session and missed a chance to block it.

From there, the spending package was sent on to the Senate, which passed it on Oct. 8. The bill was stalled for a couple of days by Republicans who had questions for the governor about some of the proposed spending.

While the bill was awaiting the approval of the Senate, a group of about 25 MTA higher ed members met with Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) to urge passage.

Tom Goodkind, president of the Professional Staff Union at UMass Boston, said the meeting gave Tarr an opportunity to “see the faces and hear the voices of hard-working public employees struggling to survive in today’s economy.” Goodkind said he thought the experience was somewhat eye-opening for Tarr and went a long way “toward counteracting the myths of lazy, overpaid state workers.”

At the meeting, Goodkind said, Tarr assured the MTA members that the bill would pass the Senate.

“In fact that’s what happened the next day, with the senator’s vote,” Goodkind noted.

Polito made yet another attempt to block the bill during the following week when it arrived in the House for final approval. At that time, she unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would have eliminated contract funding from the final version. The House and Senate then passed the bill, and the governor signed it.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to bring the contract funding process to closure,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “Our higher ed members and staff worked hard to get this bill through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk. We thank Governor Patrick and the many legislators who worked with us for their support and leadership.”

The contracts reached by MTA unions representing faculty, librarians and professional staff include a 1.5 percent retroactive increase as of June 30 and two subsequent 3.5 percent increases on June 30 of 2011 and 2012.

The new contracts for MTA members represented by classified units, whose members earn step increases, include a 1 percent retroactive increase as of June 30, 2010, and 3 percent increases on June 30 of 2011 and 2012.

Two MTA unions, the Association of Professional Administrators and the Massachusetts Community College Council, are on different contract cycles than the other units. APA and MCCC members will receive a 1.5 percent pay increase and two 3.5 percent increases.

While the delays will be of the same duration, they will occur in different calendar years for each union.