UMass Dartmouth employees protest funding issues

Nov 5, 2020

On Nov. 5, union workers clad in Corsair gear staged a protest in Dartmouth against the University of Massachusetts system as campus executives are pursuing layoffs, furloughs, and program cuts across the state.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and American Federation of Teachers protested the Covid-related cuts at the Dartmouth Mall on Faunce Corner Thursday afternoon.

“For the longevity of the UMass system, things have to change,” AFSCME steward Wendy Graca said. “Things can’t keep going the way they’re going.”

Graca said the main goal of the protest was to encourage residents to call on the legislature to pass level funding and for UMass president Marty Meehan and the Board of Trustees to release some of the system’s “rainy day” funds. 

According to the 2019 annual finance report, the UMass system had stabilization funds totaling $114,594,000. The report notes that the funds are designated to “provide budgetary stabilization for operations due to unforeseen and/or uncontrollable circumstances to ensure responsible long-term financial stability.”

“They say they’re saving the money for a rainy day — we’ll we’re in the middle of a tsunami,” union treasurer Pat Mooney said.

AFT Maintainers Local 6350 President Mike Neves noted that the unions have gotten a lot of support from state officials, with State Sen. Mark Montigny leading the charge to get enough support to pressure Meehan.

“Montigny has been meeting with us on this before the ball even started rolling,” he said. “He’s always been an advocate for us.”

In a letter to Montigny, Lisa Calise — the UMass senior vice president for administration and finance — said that while there is more than $114 million in the stabilization fund, it would “cover less than one month of expenses.”

“It is important to consider the timing of the crisis and its impact,” she wrote. “The current crisis brought on by the global Covid pandemic resulted in major unplanned disruption to all of our campuses in FY21.”

Many demonstrators claimed that officials are placing all of the financial blame on the pandemic, but that in reality it is because of a “mismanagement in funding.”

The primary form of mismanagement, Mooney said, is with whom the UMass system is hiring.

“We’ve got more vice chancellors and associates to the assistants than we do worker bees,” she said.

UMass Dartmouth Carpenter Eric Ducharme agreed. He said that his department has seen quite a reduction over the past few years, going down from 149 employees to 110.

“We’re doing more work than we did seven years ago and with 20 to 30 percent less staff,” Ducharme said. “Meanwhile, they get raises and tell us we can’t get the support.”

University spokesperson Ryan Merrill said that while there have been many leadership changes at UMass Dartmouth over the years, any salary reductions and furloughs “came together in agreement that the highest-paid employees contribute more while protecting the lowest-paid employees.”

“Whatever challenges lay before us, our University is prepared to face them together so that we can provide our students with the opportunities they deserve to better themselves and their communities,” he added.

Graca noted that while there were problems with the previous UMass Dartmouth administration, she said things “have gotten better” for the unions since Mark Preble took over as acting chancellor in August.

She highlighted that Preble has been “very communicative” with the unions and has worked with them to ensure that no employees would have to be laid off, unlike other UMass schools.

“Of course, we’re not confident about where things will stop, ” she said. “That’s why we’ll continue with these events — so UMass is pressured to do the right thing.”