Unions: UMass threatening layoffs if no deal reached

  • A bike, with two flat tires, is locked to a rack across from the closed Berkshire Dining Commons, right, in the Southwest Residential Area of the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Aug. 27, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2020 7:35:59 PM
Modified: 9/11/2020 7:35:45 PM

AMHERST — Two University of Massachusetts unions are filing labor violation charges against UMass, alleging that the university is threatening its members with 300 layoff notices if the union does not agree to the university’s most recent proposal aimed at dealing with a big budget gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Professional Staff Union (PSU) and University Staff Association (USA) filed the charges Wednesday, also alleging that the university did not provide relevant and necessary data and went back on an earlier proposal.

The university’s most recent proposal, according to PSU, “targeted hundreds of our members for short-term, long-term and indefinite furloughs.” PSU members are professional staff and classified supervisors, while USA members are clerical, technical and administrative employees. Both are affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

In response, the union submitted a counterproposal that included provisions such as using voluntary cost-saving measures, such as shortened work weeks or cuts to hours, rather than full furloughs; up to two five-day furloughs for all members to “share the burden and economic pain equally across our membership” if these cost-savings measures cannot be taken; and elimination of temporary positions before cutting permanent positions.

The union says the university proposed that all PSU members take 10 days of furloughs this year regardless of whether cost-saving measures are achieved; an unspecified number of indefinite furloughs; and added into the proposal “new language providing for an unspecified number of permanent layoffs to our unit to begin Jan. 15.”

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski told the Gazette that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a projected loss of $168.6 million to the university’s operating budget and necessitated staff reductions as “an absolute last resort” after previous cost-reduction measures.

“Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy concluded that the only remaining way to address such a substantial deficit is through workforce reductions, beginning with those job functions that cannot be performed remotely and for which there is no work due to the minimal number of students residing on campus,” Blaguszewski said.

The university expects to issue “some permanent layoffs,” he added, and “is doing all that it can to lessen the number of layoffs by seeking to reach an agreement with the unions that prioritizes temporary reductions in hours and indefinite furloughs.”

Blaguszewski continued, “The university hopes to convince the unions to agree to furloughs, which means employees would retain their UMass benefits, including health care, while still being entitled to unemployment benefits. Such an agreement would also enable a smooth re-employment process when the campus resumes normal operations.”

But PSU leaders say that “with absolutely no warning,” they were told that the university will issue 300 layoff notices to the unit on Monday if they do not accept the offer by Friday.

Asked about that exchange, Blaguszewski said he was “not going to discuss the details of the union.”

“We negotiate in good faith and hope to come to an agreement,” he said.

In an email to members, PSU co-chairs Brad Turner and Risa Silverman said that the university’s demands are “bizarre and unacceptable, and demonstrate exactly what we detailed in our charges — that the university has been dealing with us in bad faith for months.”

“They have withheld crucial financial information, they have violated our agreements, and they are currently engaging in regressive bargaining and bullying threats,” Turner and Silverman added.

Blaguszewski also declined to comment on the allegation of bullying threats.

The allegations come after the university announced in late August that it would furlough 850 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union workers in September, with permanent layoffs expected in the following weeks.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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