300 protest take-backs in UMass Amherst contracts

UMass

More than 300 people protested on Friday, September 5, at a lunchtime rally against UMass Amherst’s demands in bargaining with its unions.

The crowd that gathered in front of the Student Union Building included members of all three MTA UMass locals — the  University Staff Association, the Professional Staff Union and the Massachusetts Society of Professors. They were joined by members of AFSCME, Jobs With Justice, the Graduate Employee Organization and UMass undergraduates.

Donna Johnson, president of the 1,000-member University Staff Association, kicked off the rally by explaining that the university is demanding take-backs in bargaining across all units.

She said that the university has threatened that if contracts are not settled by October, retroactive pay raises back to July 1 would be lost. Also being demanded by the university, Johnson said, are cuts to the employee sick leave bank, less vacation and sick leave for future employees, and a changed hiring process that would weaken the ability of current employees to be promoted in favor of lower-paid, newer employees.

Johnson emphasized that employees’ working conditions constitute students’ learning conditions. She said that the university’s focus on achieving savings by cutting benefits is misguided.

If the university cared about savings, Johnson said, it would find that there is plenty of waste to cut, including administrative bloat. She urged the crowd to report waste anonymously by e-mailing UMassWaste@massteacher.org, where reports of waste will be further researched and publicized.

University Staff Association member J. Michael Jones pumped up the crowd and urged members against agreeing to any take-backs. Speakers from the Professional Staff Union and Graduate Employee Organization followed.

Carrying signs saying “UMass Unions United to Protect Our Rights,” beating drums, shaking noisemakers and chanting, the faculty, staff, students and community members marched through campus and around the Whitmore Administration Building, then back to the Student Union.