Higher ed leaders urge governor to fund contracts

MTA higher education leaders from across the state converged on Natick, April 27, to urge Gov. Deval Patrick to support funding of their contracts as they were signed, ratified and sent by him to the Legislature.

Currently, the contracts are being held up in the Legislature as the Patrick administration is demanding that they be reopened and that unions accept further concessions, including furloughs. Union leaders are firmly opposed to reopening the contracts – a fact underscored by the profusion of yellow, red and black buttons in the room, reading, “Keep Your Word – A Deal Is A Deal!”

Patrick surprised the group by saying he had been told by Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez that the administration was not asking for furloughs from public higher education employees.  The administration’s changed position had not been communicated to MTA or its chapters by their respective employers.

In any case, the chapter presidents asked the governor to support immediate funding of the contracts and to rescind the administration’s request to reopen the contracts.

Patrick promised to review the situation with Gonzalez and legislative leaders and get back to MTA.

The one-and-a-half hour “conversation” with the governor and Education Secretary Paul Reville followed a similar session on March 30 that the governor was unable to attend because of the flood crisis in the state. As in that earlier meeting, attended by Reville and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, chapter leaders reviewed the long and tortuous bargaining process, which began in 2007.

Shauna Lee Manning, president of the Classified Staff Union at UMass Boston, urged Patrick to write to the Speaker of the House and Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee to fund the contracts.

“We feel like the budget is being balanced on our backs,” Manning said. “We go above and beyond in our work, and now we’re asking you to go above and beyond and to write a letter asking the Legislature to fund our contracts.”

The audience did laud Patrick’s efforts to spare public higher education from drastic budget cuts and to secure increased federal funding. However, leaders also reminded Patrick of the dire straits higher education – and educators – find themselves in. Manning cited cases of classified staff employees having to ration medicine; another – days from payday – did not have enough money to park in the UMass lot.

And according to Randy Phillis, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, UMass Amherst, “For the first time in history of Massachusetts public education, more money is coming from students and parents than from the state.”

Near the conclusion of the session, Patrick assured the audience, “Considering the current situation, it may be hard for you to hear this, but I do respect what you do. And in time, with an improving economy, I hope you will feel this, too.”