State auditor will look at UMass jobs transfer to private foundation

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-15-2023 7:42 PM

AMHERST — State Auditor Diana DiZoglio is seeking a legal review of the potential transition of state employee positions that handle University of Massachusetts advancement and fundraising functions to the private UMass Amherst Foundation.

The auditor is intervening in the situation even as the Professional Staff Union and University Staff Association recently announced an agreement with UMass administrators to put on hold layoffs of more than 100 employees who could be transitioned from the Advancement Services office.

DiZoglio sent a letter Thursday to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy explaining that legal review under the Taxpayer Protection Act appears necessary for privatization contracts that may be subject to approval by the Office of State Auditor, or OSA.

“The OSA then must certify that the cost of performing the service by the private vendor is less costly than having the work done by the public employees and that the quality of services will be equal or better,” DiZoglio wrote in the letter that was also copied to William Brady, vice chancellor and chief human resources officer, and Andrew Mangels, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

DiZoglio observed that her office had not received any requests for proposal, analyses or any other documents. “The university’s effort to privatize these functions may not proceed without analysis and determination from the OSA as required by law,” she wrote.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski issued a statement on behalf of the university that officials are in receipt of DiZoglio’s letter and look forward to connecting with her office to discuss the applicable law and the shared respect for legal compliance and accountability in the commonwealth’s work.

“The university is confident that the prescribed reorganization, following guidance and direction from state regulators, and under the bargained transfer agreement between UMass Amherst and the unions, can continue as planned in full compliance,” Blaguszewski said. “The university will continue to work closely with the state to ensure compliance in all areas.”

The university’s actions have been guided by an internal review of relevant statutes, including various state laws and guidance from the Massachusetts State Retirement Board, he said.

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Andrew Gorry, who co-chairs the Professional Staff Union, spoke favorably of the auditor’s views.

“Our Advancement employees must be allowed to continue their work at UMass, and the foundation must immediately stop all attempts to perform this state work, including hiring for these positions, and reverse all existing effort toward privatization,” Gorry said.

Gorry points to a March 2020 agreement between the unionized workers in Advancement Services and UMass that spells out what is to be done by public employees and what to be handled by the private UMass Amherst Foundation.

Gorry added that the unions see the recent agreement as a critical stopgap measure.

“This agreement will protect our members in the short term while we continue to fight this illegal privatization effort by UMass,” Gorry said.

For his part, Blaguszewski said, “The university is pleased to have reached an agreement with the unions that ensures there will be no layoffs by providing union members expedited transfer rights should they choose to remain at the university rather than move to the UMass Amherst Foundation.”

Jay Johnson, an Advancement Services employee since 2016, also issued a statement in support of the agreement.

“This is a welcome end to the outlandish threat of of layoffs, which was a clear attempt to coerce us into at-will positions at the UMass Amherst Foundation,” Johnson said.

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