UMass Advancement unions taking case to governor

  • Healey

Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2023 4:05:53 PM
Modified: 5/9/2023 4:05:51 PM

AMHERST — Unions representing the advancement division at the University of Massachusetts are taking their appeal for keeping 100 or more workers from losing their state employment to Gov. Maura Healey, asking her to intervene in the ongoing situation in which the employees may be laid off or compelled to work for the private UMass Amherst Foundation.

On Monday, near the Campus Center, joined by a character known as Scabby the Rat, representatives from the Professional Staff Union and the University Staff Association passed out leaflets titled “Mass. Education, Not Mass Layoffs” that argue Vice Chancellor Arwen Duffy is planning to terminate 124 employees.

The flyers come with a QR code for people to correspond with Healey about what the unions consider a privatization effort involving an “unaccountable employer.”

“This move would be a disaster for those of us who work, study, and claim community here. We need you to speak up now,” the message to Healey reads. “Public education belongs to the public. MA voters elected you because of your promise to defend public education and unionized labor. Now, I am asking you to deliver on that promise.”

The latest action comes after UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy last week, coinciding with May Day, sent two letters to many of the affected employees. One letter included job offers to a private foundation, and the other advised of the possible layoff.

The university has repeatedly said that without making the change, the pensions and benefits these employees are accruing may be lost, as UMass may potentially be violating state pension rules. Getting into legal and regulatory compliance is needed, as UMass says it is running afoul of the Massachusetts State Employee Retirement System (MSERS) and the optional retirement plan (ORP).

A filing with the Office of the State Board of Retirement by Elissa Flynn-Poppey, an attorney with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC of Boston, explains that restructuring is necessary after the private foundation, created to handle large donations made to UMass, and the university were intertwined for the past 20 years.

The unions have filed charges against UMass with the Department of Labor Relations for bargaining in bad faith, retaliation and anti-union activity.

The university’s argument has been countered by a joint statement from U.S. Rep. James McGovern, state Sen. Jo Comerford and state Rep. Mindy Domb, whose districts all encompass the campus.

“Lives and careers dedicated to public service are at stake,” the elected leaders wrote last week. “UMass Amherst must immediately pause its rush to privatization. Any discussion of layoffs must be suspended.”

“The university should convene a meeting with all stakeholders, including public officials, where disputed facts about its reorganization plan can come into the light and be affirmed or corrected,” their message continued. “The university must re-engage with the union and rely on expert mediation rather than issuing ultimatums. A public university must have public accountability.”

Andrew Gorry and Brad Turner, who co-chair the Professional Staff Union, also sent a memo to members about the support being received and is calling on UMass leadership to meet demands set by the elected officials, rather than to “blunder ahead” with terminating employees.

“We are proud to have such fierce advocates in our corner. Management thought they could force through this privatization in the shadow of night. They thought they could leverage a threat on members’ pensions to keep them quiet. They severely underestimated what this group is capable of. Together we have led a strong and principled fight, not only for Advancement members’ careers, but for transparency and accountability in public education.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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