"Bulger, trustees join higher ed contract campaign"

In the face of negative rumblings from legislative leaders and the governor's office about the prospects for funding the higher ed contracts in the next fiscal year, Higher Ed Unions United (HEUU) continues to fight for funding.

In recent weeks, HEUU has enlisted the support of UMass President William Bulger and the UMass Board of Trustees in its campaign.

Union activists packed the trustees meeting at UMass/Boston, Feb. 12, to hear the trustees unanimously pass a resolution which "reiterates its support for the negotiated salary increases for University employees and pledges to work with President Bulger and through the unions and their members in an effort to achieve that goal."

Bulger agreed to work with HEUU during a Jan. 17 meeting with union representatives at his Boston office. UMass participants included Bulger, UMass Vice President for Finance and Administration Steven Lenhardt and UMass Executive Vice President James Julian. Union participants included Edward. Sullivan (MTA), Kathleen Kelley (MFT), Robert Haynes (AFL-CIO), Thomas Coish (SEIU 509), Peter Wright and Tony Case (AFSCME) and Carol Knox (UAW).

According to a joint statement issued after the meeting, "both parties agreed to:

1. Meet to work to develop possible solutions; and
2. Arrange for representatives of each party to accomplish the following:

  • Refine the financial scope of the issues …;
  • Develop cooperative political strategies; and
  • Develop appropriate public relations coordination.
So far, two meetings had been held on financial matters and two on political strategies.

Attending the meeting on political strategies, Feb. 5, were Julian for UMass and Sullivan, Kelley and Wright for the unions. According to a joint statement, the discussion included:

  • Reconfirming the importance of working closely together on the political efforts;
  • The need to keep open lines of communication for the sharing of information and decision-making;
  • Ways of working together with the legislature (e.g., some joint attendance at key meetings) and working separately (e.g., testimony at legislative hearings);
  • Coordination of message and timing efforts; and
  • [The need for] frameworks for messages for messages for outside the legislature.

The newfound cooperation between Bulger and the unions, which followed months of union activism aimed at the UMass president, has toned down HEUU actions, at least temporarily. Union members demonstrated outside the inauguration of UMass/Amherst Chancellor John Lombardi, Feb. 7, but the picketing was relatively low-key and informational.

University Staff Association President Donna Johnson told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, "We just want people to realize as they go into this festive occasion that some of us are not feeling festive. We [wore] red in solidarity, because red shows we are a little angry and also that some of us are living in the red."

UMass/Amherst unions are planning a teach-in Feb. 19 and 20 to enlist student support for the contract campaign.

State college campaign

Representatives of the Association of Professional Administrators (APA) met with seven state college presidents, Feb. 7, as part of its "ongoing campaign to keep the contract issue in front of them," said APA President David Morwick.

Since September, the campaign has:

  • Elicited a letter from the state college Council of Presidents to the governor and key legislators, strongly supporting contract funding;
  • Elicited similar letters from a majority of the state college boards of trustees; and
  • Elicited a similar letter from Board of Higher Education Chair Stephen Tacco and Chancellor Judith Gill, also signed by the chairs of all nine state college boards of trustees.

"We are continuing to garner support from all the key players in the state college system," Morwick said. "We intend to keep the contract issue alive and on the front burner."

Text of the resolution by the UMass Board of Trustees supporting contract funding:

The Board of Trustees recognizes that the dedicated faculty and staff of the University of Massachusetts are the system's most vital asset.

It is a matter of disappointment, for all parties concerned, that negotiated salary increases have not been funded and that the University's hard working employees continue to await expected wage increases.

The Board reiterates its support for the negotiated salary increases for University employees and pledges to work with President Bulger and through the unions and their members in an effort to achieve that goal.

The members of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees and President Bulger support the maximum level of state appropriation funding feasible in the current fiscal environment. We are mindful of the Commonwealth's significant fiscal constraints but also recognize that a healthy and well-funded University of Massachusetts is critically important to economic recovery and growth.