UMass trustees hear from union leaders

Barbara Madeloni told the UMass trustees that unions “can no longer stomach punitive, regressive” cuts.Barbara Madeloni told the UMass trustees that unions “can no longer stomach punitive, regressive” cuts.

Frustrated by the state of contract negotiations throughout the UMass system, MTA President Barbara Madeloni and the leaders of four local bargaining units spoke before the UMass Board of Trustees on September 17.

All of the union leaders, who represent faculty, staff and graduate students, lambasted proposals that unions are seeing at their respective bargaining tables.

“Campus unions are continuing to negotiate in good faith, but we can no longer stomach punitive, regressive and counterproductive demands,” Madeloni told the board at its meeting at UMass Lowell.

About 30 union activists attended the meeting, many holding signs and wearing stickers that read “UMass Unions United to Protect Our Rights.”

The trustees only allowed five speakers to address them, so two union leaders stood silently beside Donna Johnson, president of the University Staff Association at UMass Amherst and chair of the MTA’s Higher Education Leadership Council, as she addressed the trustees. “I stand before you today to let you know that we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore,” said Johnson.

“As some of the lowest-paid workers, we feel that the current regressive proposals are unacceptable and extremely classist,” Johnson said.

Henry Cornu, president of the Maintenance and Trades Union at UMass Lowell, and Janelle Quarles, president of the Classified Staff Union at UMass Boston, flanked Johnson as she spoke, then delivered 2,500 signatures on petitions in support of UMass employees.

UMass unions across the board are being asked for reductions in sick leave and other benefits. Several bargaining units are also seeing longstanding job descriptions and career-advancement paths be changed.

Tom Goodkind, president of the Professional Staff Union at UMass Boston, criticized the administration’s claim that bargaining proposals simply mirror the employment packages that are offered to non-union employees.

“The university is standardizing down, not up,” Goodkind said. He said trustees likely have supported U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey when they have criticized the “race to the bottom” that has had a severe impact on middle-class workers. “The race to the bottom has come into our own house, our family,” Goodkind continued. “How will you respond?”

Marlene Kim, an economics professor and president of the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston, described the debilitating potential effects of the university’s current proposals.

“If you treat people well, they do a better job,” she said. “Take back the take-backs.”

Anais Surkin, co-chair of the Graduate Employee Organization at UMass Amherst, also addressed the trustees. “All UMass workers want to be treated with respect, and we refuse to be pitted against each other,” Surkin said.

Madeloni reminded the trustees how closely workers and the administration have worked together to lobby the state Legislature for better public higher education funding. Through their joint efforts, students at UMass have benefited from two years of tuition and fee freezes.

“From across the state, campus employees in every position organized” to move the funding plan forward, Madeloni said, “just as they have always been eager allies of the administration in fighting for adequate funding — and for every other step required to ensure that UMass is an institution in which collaboration and inquiry serve as a foundation for students to grow and succeed.

“So it leaves me confused,” Madeloni continued, “when I learn that administrators within the university are aggressively demanding givebacks from the very people who build and hold together our university system.”

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