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UMass staff suffer consequences of school budget deficit

Union leaders urge the administration to reverse job cuts and develop new plan

Karen Morales | 11/22/2017, 10:09 a.m.
Staff union leaders at UMass Boston are preparing to challenge the school’s administration and board of trustees after dozens of ...
UMass Boston Campus Center Banner photo

Staff union leaders at UMass Boston are preparing to challenge the school’s administration and board of trustees after dozens of employees were laid off as a way to address a budget deficit.

Ongoing campus construction and renovations have contributed to UMass Boston’s multi-million dollar debt. It is estimated the layoffs will save the school $1.8 million, according to Barry Mills, UMass Boston interim chancellor.

Over the past year, staff, faculty and students have argued that there are solutions available to reduce the debt other than job cuts and tuition increases.

“It’s unconscionable that they are punishing people who have nothing to do with fiscal issues of the past,” said Tom Goodkind, president of the UMass Boston Professional Staff Union.

The root of the problem

“The staffing reduction decisions that have been made were driven by the financial and operational challenges that our campus faces,” said Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Marie H. Bowen in a statement to the UMass Boston community. “We regret the effect that this process will have on the lives of our valued colleagues, and we are grateful to them for their many contributions to the University.”

But Goodkind said the school’s financial problems are rooted in the administration’s mishandling of the budget process for rebuilding the campus, “due to faulty construction of the 1970s.”

According to Goodkind, 43 employees were laid off last Wednesday and Thursday and “we think there are more rounds to come,” he said. At least 33 of those employees were union members.

The dismissed staff worked in a wide range of departments from maintenance and security to health services and facilities. Some had even worked with the school for more than 30 years.

Janelle Quarles, president of the UMass Boston Classified Staff Union, said that the school already suffers from understaffing. Her union started with 500 classified staff, and now there are fewer than 300 members.

“With the enrollment numbers growing over the years and the new buildings going up, we can’t even keep up with the workload,” she said.

The two staff unions are asking UMass Boston president Marty Meehan and the trustees to reverse their decision, halt the layoffs and use a small portion of the UMass central reserves to stabilize the budget, according to a press release from the UMass Professional Staff Union.

The unions urge the administration to develop a long-term plan that addresses revenue and expenses while acknowledging the absolute necessity of repairing the school’s physical infrastructure.

Employee advocates plan to further their argument at a board of trustees meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday where union leaders, members, and students will gather and speak on how the staff cuts have affected their lives and the way the school operates.

Goodkind thinks it’s time for the school to dip into its central reserves.

“It’s a huge rainy day fund,” he said, “and it’s pouring at UMass Boston right now.”