Comerford, Domb weigh in against UMass move to privatize union jobs

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-29-2023 3:13 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s legislative delegation at the State House is offering support to unions at the University of Massachusetts fighting a reorganization plan in which about 100 employees who work in Advancement Services would be moved to the private UMass Amherst Foundation.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, issued a joint statement Monday saying they “are gravely concerned” with the plan and how it would affect employees.

“Their state jobs, careers, and retirements are on the line as the flagship campus endeavors to move their positions to a private entity,” Domb and Comerford wrote. “We are not convinced that UMass Amherst’s plan to restructure is needed and we strongly urge the Administration to reexamine options with two priority objectives: 1) to secure the retirements of these public employees, and 2) to achieve a resolution that addresses any issues that UMass Amherst may face without forcing its employees to bear the cost with their retirements or their careers.”

The statement comes after unions staged a Save Our Staff rally and speak-out outside the Whitmore Administration Building earlier in March to object to the transition of the jobs.

The move is necessary, according to UMass officials, to maintain participation by some in the Massachusetts State Employee Retirement System and the optional retirement plan. The university has said it developed a compliance plan to protect employees’ past and future retirement contributions and to help maintain their career paths, with the majority to become part of the UMass Amherst Foundation where they will continue the university’s mission of philanthropic outreach.

What Comerford and Domb put out was used as impetus for union leaders to send an email to members, signed by Andrew Gorry and Brad Turner, who co-chair the Professional Staff Union at the Amherst campus, and University Staff Association President Leslie Marsland and Vice President Mary Malinowski.

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“It is a forceful statement for the university to halt its efforts towards privatizing our members’ positions, and it sends a clear message to all of us — we have allies, and we are not alone in this effort,” the email reads.

The letter from the unions goes on to credit Comerford, the Senate chairwoman of the Joint Higher Education Committee, and Domb, who serves on that committee, for speaking to many members and conducting their own inquiries.

“We appreciate the seriousness of Sen. Comerford and Rep. Domb’s approach and their public commitment to a just and sensible outcome that protects state jobs. This is what it looks like when elected leaders listen to their constituents,” the letter reads.

Previously, the UMass unions have gotten support from labor unions throughout western Massachusetts and from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

Their email also states the unions are continuing an online petition and letter-writing campaign, and are awaiting a response to a proposal: “The choice for UMass Amherst management is clear: Respect our previously signed 2020 agreement about the structure of Advancement, end this unnecessary bid for mass privatization of UMass Amherst jobs, and return to the table in good faith to negotiate a compliant structure that preserves the maximum number of UMass jobs.”

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