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  • University of Massachusetts employees rally outside the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts, where the UMass Board of Trustees was meeting, Friday, April 6, 2018.  —Scott Merzbach

  • Unions rally outside the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts, where the UMass Board of Trustees was meeting, Friday, April 6, 2018.  —Scott Merzbach

  • Unions rally outside the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts, where the UMass Board of Trustees was meeting, Friday, April 6, 2018.  —Scott Merzbach

  • Unions rally outside the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts, where the UMass Board of Trustees was meeting, Friday, April 6, 2018.  —Scott Merzbach



Staff Writer
Friday, April 06, 2018

AMHERST — With unions at the bargaining table for 18 months and working without new contracts since July 1, 2016, representatives from six bargaining units at the University of Massachusetts flagship campus staged a rally before a board of trustees meeting Friday morning.

Standing outside the Old Chapel, holding signs that read “Unions united,” “Fair contract now” and “We’re standing with the union,” and chanting, the 50 or so employees marked 279 days without a contract.

“This is a long time to go without a contract,” said Eve Weinbaum, an associate professor of labor studies and sociology who is the president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors.

Weinbaum said it is particularly frustrating because the negotiations for the 7,500 employees on the Amherst campus and an additional 4,500 on the other campuses in the system were done under a new bargaining process that was supposed to produce a quicker settlement.  

“We’ve been patient and trying to help the administration push the legislators for more funding,” Weinbaum said. “The UMass budget looks decent for next year.”

The unions, for instance, have advocated for the the Fair Share Amendment to the state’s constitution that would allow the state to collect higher taxes from those earning more than a million dollars per year, with revenue from this helping make higher education more affordable and accessible.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said he is confident that a deal will be reached on new contracts. “We’re bargaining in good faith and hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” he said.

Typically, the new contracts include retroactive pay adjustments, Blaguszewski added.

Weinbaum said the unions have advocated for cost-of-living adjustments, as well as raising the floor for the lowest paid employees and ensuring non-tenure track faculty have parity with other professors. The unions are calling for contracts that promote race, class, and gender equity and a more respectful workplace on campus, she added.

University employees at the rally, which also included representatives from the Professional Staff Union, AFSCME Local 1776 and the Graduate Employee Organization, said they hope their voices are heard.

“I think this helps raise awareness and invigorates the people who are trying to get the contract completed,” said David Gross, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology who serves as a treasurer for the Massachusetts Society of Professors.

He said other state employees automatically get their raises and contracts, yet UMass employees seem to have to fight for them every three years.

“It’s been extraordinarily long and a very, very frustrating negotiation process,” said Christine Turner, a librarian and vice president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. “We get very little sense the administration wants to get it done.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.