UMass union votes no confidence in chancellor over outbreak

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Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2021 2:20:53 PM

AMHERST — A University of Massachusetts union representing resident assistants and peer mentors has issued a no-confidence vote in Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy over the recent COVID-19 outbreak on campus, and is making several demands for improved safety and well-being.

A statement issued Monday on behalf of almost 190 members of the Resident Assistants and Peer Mentors United Union of UAW Local 2322, or about two-thirds of its membership, expresses concern about the self-sequestration order and high-risk posture the campus has been in since Feb. 7.

“We tried to warn you,” write William Cole, Melissa Francois, Silvia Shtereva and James Cordero, representatives of the union. “Yet you, in your desire to collect housing and dining revenue, decided to open campus without the proper safety precautions, leading to the present coronavirus outbreak.”

As of Tuesday, the university had 346 active COVID-19 cases.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the university is working closely with the campus community to address the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Our extensive planning process anticipated the possibility of this occurrence, and we have been taking swift and decisive actions to protect our community,” Blaguszewski said.

The letter praises the Student Government Association’s advocacy that has led the administration to keep paying students with on-campus jobs at their full wages during self-sequestration, and the decisions to sanction students who egregiously violate COVID guidelines.

But the union claims that its confidence in Subbaswamy won’t be restored unless several steps, some that could be expensive, are taken. These include:

■Hiring more residence hall security staff so guest restrictions can be properly enforced around the clock, and getting more contact tracers and quarantine staff so students who test positive can more quickly go into isolation.

■Paying full wages for students with off-campus jobs whenever self-sequestration orders are in effect.

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Making sure all fraternities and other student organizations that host parties and flout COVID-19 guidelines face immediate sanctions.

■Removing from campus any student documented as having severely violated COVID-19 orders.

■Keeping all student workers, staff and faculty fully employed and fully compensated through the spring semester, even if there’s another campus shutdown.

The letter comes on the heels of the UMass administration’s temporary eviction of graduate workers in resident education, known as assistant resident directors, from their apartments in Southwest Area high rises to make room for the quarantining and isolation of undergraduate students testing positive for the coronavirus.

Blaguszewski said resident assistants and peer mentors play a vital role containing the virus, and that there are ongoing discussions with them to promote the community’s public health so that returning to normal operations, including a resumption of in-person classes and organized student activities, can occur.

The union is calling on Subbaswamy to draw from $300 million in reserves and use additional state and federal aid to make investments for public health and economic security.

“No one should have to choose between paying rent or risking COVID infection,” the letter concludes. “UMass must make critical investments to stop both the current and future spread of COVID and ensure the economic well-being of our entire community.”

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


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