Faculty and Staff to Protest Veto by Swift

Natalia Cooper

Just two days after the start of the fall semester, faculty and staff will gather to protest a recent action by Acting Governor Jane Swift during the last days of budget negotiations this summer. In July of this year the acting governor vetoed $34 million that was supposed to go to the Massachusetts higher education system; more than $20 million of that amount was for salary increases at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Union leaders here at UMass Boston have not taken the veto lightly. A coalition of public higher education unions plan to walk out of work and classes at 10 am on September 5 for a brief labor stoppage, union officials said. Groups will come together on the plaza outside the administration building. The protest will focus on the fact that this veto means the state has gone back on a deal that was bargained in good faith. The salary increase had already been approved by the governor and Senate President Tom Birmingham when, after being submitted to and supported by the legislature, the increase was vetoed at the last minute.

“We really feel like a deal was a deal,” said Elizabeth Mock, president of the Faculty Staff Union here at UMB. Then “all of a sudden at the eleventh hour, they rolled over and played dead.”

The faculty and staff unions are asking for student support as well. The unions have made it clear that they do not want their contracts funded on the backs of the students from any increases in tuition or fees. Other parts of the labor movement are also being asked to support the higher education unions in this matter because it is a labor issue and a collective bargaining issue.

“People are pretty angry,” said Ms. Mock. Unions realize it is a tough time for the state’s economy but many are left wondering why the higher education contracts are the only ones not being honored in the state’s budget for FY 2003. Mock also said that this is the first time the state has supported a contract and then not funded it.

Earlier this month about 30 union representatives attended the first meeting of the Board of Trustees for the new fiscal year. Three union members spoke at the meeting. Mock said that when those speakers posed questions to the board regarding the state’s renege on salary increases their questions were left unanswered.

“There was no response, it was just stony silence,” Mock said.

Representatives from the UMass administration were not so silent with the press, however. Claims were made that if the state went through with salary increases this year, there would be massive layoffs in higher education over the next few years.

But at the recent trustees meeting the unions requested the basis of such estimated cuts. Mock told The Mass Media that higher education officials claimed that honoring the contract would lead to massive layoffs in the coming years. “We don’t see any evidence that that would be a consequence,” she said and added that the trustees failed to respond to the questions and concerns of union members present at the meeting.

The supposed reason for the layoffs is that the state’s portion would only cover salary increases for the first year. According to the Boston Globe, the portion of salary increases the state would foot the bill for would end up covering retroactive pay, since the contract was signed last summer. The individual colleges and universities would then shoulder the burden of the pay increases this year and next year, leading to more extensive cuts in the near future, James A. Peyser, the acting governor’s education adviser told The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month.

Bob Connolly, a spokesman for President Bulger’s office painted a slightly different picture of the situation. When unions bargain with management in state contract negotiations, any agreements made are still subject to appropriation of funds to cover the contracts by the legislature. In this case, the legislature approved the funding for only the first year of a 3-year-contract with consecutive 5% increases for university employees.

Although $24 million was originally promised in the FY 2002, when it came time to appropriate the funds the legislature didn’t appropriate a dime of it. Then in the new FY 2003 budget, that $24 million was appropriated but would only cover the first year and would provide none of the $38 million needed to cover increases in the second year, or the $55 million needed for the third year.

When Swift vetoed the first payment, she apparently did so because if funded it would have caused too much disruption.

Connolly said that although many have claimed that President Bulger reneged on a promise to UMass faculty and staff, “realistically, that’s not the case.”

“We argued vociferously in favor of these contracts being funded,” Connolly went on to say. “We’d love to have these contracts funded in full … [Bulger] understands fully why people are disappointed.” He also went on to say that it would be impossible for the university to fund the increases without the state’s help unless there was another round of layoffs. The President’s office puts the number of layoffs necessary to fund the increases at around 750 university employees. “It would be a destabilizing thing to happen in the university right now.”

UMass Administration is forced to deal with a greatly decreased operating budget. Over the past two years, the budget has dropped from $485 million to $445 million for FY 2003. “We need every penny of that $445 million to operate in the coming year,” Connolly said.

Another action that the coalition of unions has planned is a presence at the upcoming cancer walk in Worcester on Labor Day. UMass President William Bulger is scheduled to speak at the start of the walk. According to Larry Kaye, vice president of the Faculty Staff Union at UMB, the unions will have a presence at the walk “to draw attention to the fact that our contract is not being met by the state.”

Bulger was involved in the negotiating process for these contracts and then later came out in support of the governor’s veto of the money. Kaye says that those affected by the governor’s veto want “at least some acknowledgement on his part.”

Mr. Connolly said, ” I’m not sure that it’s terribly productive in the long run,” when asked about the walk out on September 5 as well as other actions planned by UMass faculty and staff unions. He also said this is going to be something that will diminish the public image of the university. The President’s office, according to Connolly, has “no hidden agenda.”