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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Legislature Approves Union Contract Funding

The state Legislature approved the long-awaited contract funding for UMass unions last week and inserting language into the supplemental budget that gives UMass officials the flexibility they need to fund the contracts.

“This is a huge victory for us all, which would not have happened without a clear strategy and the intense effort, time, energy and dedication of our membership,” said union president Susanna Segat in an online note to union members.

The funding is not entirely safe just yet. The budget now sits on the desk of Gov. Mitt Romney, a frequent target of the unions, who have followed him to Washington D.C. and back to protest his refusal earlier to sign the contracts.

“This is only one step in the process,” noted Mark Preble, UMass Boston’s director of labor and employee relations. “We remain optimistic and hope this will get done.”

The union may have to wait until January if Romney vetoes the item, leading some to ratchet down the rhetoric, as they continue to picket on Morrissey Boulevard at the university’s entrance.

UMass Boston’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, made up of clerical and blue collar workers, among others, are some of the lowest paid people and the only UMass union without contract, going on three years without a raise.

“We’re the infrastructure of the university,” said Shauna Manning, a member who works for the American, Communication, and Women Studies Departments.

UMass officials were working with the state Legislature to fund the contract before the fiscal books closed in mid-September. Interim Chancellor J. Keith Motley has said he it’s one of his top priorities.

“That is the first thing on my list,” said Motley in an interview earlier this month. “When I inherited this job, I was not as aware as I am now that 400 of our most significant workers on this campus have been without a funded contract for three years. And it matters, because these are folk who are the lifeblood of this institution, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this place. So I will work with the president’s office and with the legislature and others to get this done.”

Motley echoed UMass President Jack Wilson’s words a week before.

“They’re upset, and believe me, I understand,” Wilson said in a interview. “I want to see them get a raise, and I’ll continue to work on it until we get it.”

The union protested outside Wilson’s Beacon Street office earlier in the summer, after Wilson received a $41,000(*) raise from the UMass Board of Trustees.

The union, about 419 people in total, was out protesting the first day of school, holding a rally in an effort to raise awareness of their situation. In recent summer days, many have spent their lunch breaks picketing on Morrissey Boulevard.

But some members have said they’re dissatisfied with their union, stating that they have been fighting two fronts: one involving politics at the State House and Gov. Romney, and the other front inside the union over publicity and dues.

“Every step of the way it’s as if we have to fight for representation,” said one union member.

Some members charge that though they are one union–SEIU 888 merged all the unions last year–the lowest paid segment is sill paying the highest dues, more than the professional staff and faculty.

This has led to some saying they feel squeezed at both ends and that they are paying for more representation than they’re actually getting.

Beyond union dues, health insurance, parking fees, and bills also take out a chunk of the paycheck, leading some to take on second and third jobs to help make ends meet at home.

“We’re all taking home less than we were four years ago,” said Maureen Boyle, who works in Pre-Collegiate and Education Support Services.

Union leaders, one of whom calls it a “non-issue,” say they inherited the inequity in the due structure as a result of the merging of unions. Segat has acknowledged this, they say, and has frozen dues across the board, with plans to fix it when circumstances permit.

While complaints arose over dues, concerns are also being raised about the amount publicity generated about the unfunded contracts. Several say the union has stated that publicity is needed, but they find themselves running into opposition from the local when they brainstorm ideas.

“People are frustrated and they want action,” said one union leader familiar with the situation, attributing it to a “clash of styles” between those who want action and those who prefer to work quietly behind the scenes.

Frustrated union members pointed to the opening of the Campus Center, where several hundred union members showed up to a ribbon cutting attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, among other politicos. To some administration officials’ chagrin, the next day the Boston Globe ran a picture of enthusiastic union members waving and demanding their contract be funded, instead of the photo-op some wanted. Union members say that initially there was a lot of resistance from the local, with the main concern being that not enough people would show up.

The same concern was on display when union members suggested protesting outside Morrissey Boulevard during the summer days. But once word spread that CBS-4’s Dan Rea, a Boston State alumnus, was going to be doing a live shot and segment at the picket site August 12, the union was given one-hour notice to show up. Nearly a hundred turned out, along with union president Segat.

“They’re there when Dan Rea’s there,” grumbled one member.

(*)Edit 9.16.2004: The article originally and incorrectly stated President Wilson received a $91,000 raise. Wilson, while interim president, was paid $309,000. It was upped $41,000 to $350,000 after he was selected as permanent president. The figure of $91,000 hails from when the UMass Board of Trustees previously had authorized a salary ceiling of $400,000.

The Mass Media regrets the error.