1/30/03 – Alumnus Appointed Director of Labor Relations

Natalia Cooper

Due to the early retirement incentive plan offered to faculty and staff of UMass Boston at the end of academic year 2001 the university lost many long-term employees. Although valuable people were lost and institutional memory needs some time to recoup, UMB now has the opportunity to refill those positions with fresh faces.

One of the newest additions to UMB’s Human Resources department is Mark Preble, the recently appointed director of labor and employee relations. Preble filled the position left open after David Edmonds took early retirement after working at the university for over twenty years.

An alumnus of UMB, Class of ’85, Preble went on to continue his education at Suffolk University Law School and just a few years ago he returned to UMB, this time as a graduate student, and completed the Certificate in Dispute Resolution offered through the College of Public and Community Service. He also worked at the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission for the past eight years and before that did an internship as a mediator in small claims court.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Beth Marshall formed a search committee to fill the position last year. The committee consisted of leaders from management and labor of the university including Susan Brown from the Budget Office and Chief Steward for Local 285; Denise Duggan, Facilities Administration; and Evelyn Wong of the CPCS Dean’s Office.

Tom Goodkind, the Local 509 Steward of UMB, was also part of the search committee for the position and explained that director of labor and employee relations is “one of, if not the most important positions from the point of view of the unions.” He seemed hopeful about future relations with Preble’s office.

The Director of Labor and Employee Relations is an administrative position within the university’s human resources department. According to Preble the job has a couple of different major functions but most often entails representing the university in dealing with employees and their unions.

“I think ultimately that’s sort of the role is advising managers in HR overall and in contractual requirements and obligations and other legal requirements and that’s pretty much it,” said Preble. “Now, within that of course there’s collective bargaining, we’re in active negotiations now, and there’s dealing with grievances and dealing with disputes that come up.”

When asked about how he came to work here at UMB, Preble explained that he had worked in a neutral position in labor relations for ten years, working more as a mediator than for one side in disputes. In his position at the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission (MLRC) for the past eight years, Preble explained that “We were not quite the last stop because we could be appealed to the appeals court, but we were after it couldn’t be worked out in the plant then they would come to us with their dispute and we were neutral. We didn’t represent management or labor, and we tried to resolve the dispute. If we couldn’t resolve it, we’d have a hearing and issue a decision.”

In his work at the commission, disputes were sometimes months old by the time they got to Preble. In his new job at UMB, Preble wanted to be closer to the dispute.

“I think you can resolve things easier that way and so I was interested in doing that. But I also wasn’t interested in going in to work for an employer who was completely anti-union.” Preble was impressed by the union representation on the search committee. “You don’t typically see that,” he said, “and so this appeared right off the bat to be a place that I would fit in, because they didn’t have that sort of hard anti-union approach to things.”

Although the contract funding process is not directly related to his position, The Mass Media asked him to comment on the issue. Preble said that in his experience and training, “that when you have a dispute that lingers quite often more and more things get brought into the dispute that are less and less relevant to the fundamental dispute and that appears to be what’s going on.”

He pointed out that the funding of collective bargaining agreements in the public sector is a multi-step process, the last step of which is the funding. He explained that it “can be very frustrating in the system because in the system the people who make the contracts are not the same people who fund the contracts.”

Preble said that during his few weeks here at UMB, he has learned of the tensions surrounding the contracts. But, Preble explained, in his work so far he has been impressed by the separation people have been able to maintain between the larger funding issue and their day-to-day disputes.

“This position isn’t a promotion, it isn’t a demotion, it’s just a completely different position. That position was a very political position and this position isn’t. I tell people I like the view from here because I see Boston from a great distance,” said Preble, and he also added, “I said to somebody when I got this job that if I had to write down on a blank piece of paper the job I was looking for, this is pretty much it.”