Official Publication of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Organizing advances higher ed bargaining
By Scott McLennan
L eaders of higher education locals are crediting their members’ increased activism for significant progress on contract negotiations,
as bargaining has led to tentative agreements and
ratifications in several units.
But they caution against letting a false sense of
security set in.
“We need to always be organizing,” said
Margaret Wong, president of the Massachusetts
Community College Council.
The MCCC’s Division of Continuing Education
unit representing adjunct instructors recently
reached an agreement that did not make concessions
on previous union gains and warded off harmful
proposals from management, such as increasing class
sizes. But the agreement also did not achieve full pay
parity between part-time and full-time faculty.
“We need to get people to understand pay equity
as an issue and as a reason for working collectively
toward something,” Wong said. “We start mobilizing
now for the next contract.”
Across the state’s higher education system, MTA
members are identifying issues that still need to be
addressed even as new contracts are coming into
force. Workers represented by the Professional Staff
Union, Classified Staff Union, Classified/Technical
Union, and Maintenance and Trades Union at UMass
campuses in Amherst, Boston and Lowell are still at
their respective bargaining tables.
Union members at UMass Boston, for example,
will have to keep negotiating over proposed increases
in employee parking fees, which trustees have been
trying to more than double as they address a massive
campus deficit. “We shouldn’t have the highest
parking fees in the UMass system to pay for bad
building in the 1970s,” said Marlene Kim, president
of the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston.
She was referring to costs the campus has
incurred to make necessary repairs to faulty
construction of campus buildings and other
structures. The issue dates back to a corruption
scandal during the initial construction of the campus,
and the state has not agreed to pay for the repairs.
Meanwhile, Classified Staff Union members are
still pushing for benefits that would put them on par
with their colleagues in the professional and faculty
units. Clerical, trade and staff unions affiliated with
the MTA and other statewide unions are banding
together to address these issues as they occur at
UMass campuses in Amherst, Boston, Lowell and
Pay disparities between full-time and adjunct
instructors remain problems not only at community
colleges, but also at state universities.
Local leaders, however, stress the effectiveness
of member engagement and member activism as
crucial to meeting their unions’ goals.
Tactics have included prebargaining surveys of
members, weekly solidarity events and protests.
Last fall, Massachusetts State College
Association President C.J. O’Donnell wore a garbage
bag to a state Board of Higher Education meeting
to publicly call out a remark from management
asserting that union proposals on the bargaining table
were “trash.” O’Donnell took the opportunity to tell
board members that they needed to take seriously the
issues being raised by the MSCA and the Association
of Professional Administrators, which also represents
state university employees.
The MSCA and the APA kept the pressure on at
the campus level with solidarity events and protests
and eventually settled their contracts.
When the Classified Staff Union at UMass
Boston turned to open bargaining sessions in June
and invited members of other campus units to simply
come and observe, management became more
willing to address workers’ concerns, said CSU
President Janelle Quarles.
Units on other UMass campuses are also
working in unison, bringing more members directly
Eve Weinbaum, president of the Massachusetts
Society of Professors chapter at UMass Amherst,
explained that MSP members are working as part
of a broader UMass labor coalition at the same time
they are organizing to focus on issues specific to
Weinbaum credited the slow, steady engagement
of members for advances that the union has made
in bargaining, such as securing funding to address
gender equity gaps in salaries and the creation of
professional development leave opportunities for
That came about, Weinbaum said, when
the faculty organized an effective campaign that
convinced management that allowing more faculty
members to delve deeper into their fields of study is
better for the university in the long run.
“It was a big win for our team,” Weinbaum said.
“We won something that we were originally told by
management was never going to happen.”
MTA higher education
members have been
taking action around
the state to move
Staff Union members
Bernice Fair, Shirley
Williams and Kathleen
McMullin, from left to
right, were among the
an open bargaining
session at UMass
Boston in June.
Photo by Scott McLennan