UMass Faculty Union celebrates fifty years

Oct 18, 2018

A fiftieth birthday is always a big milestone that deserves a celebration — especially when the birthday in question is that of one of the oldest faculty unions in the country.

On Thursday, October 18, the members of the UMass Faculty Federation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the union’s founding.

Jim Griffith is one of the union’s longest serving members. He was the president from 2007 to 2014, the first vice president from 1985 to 2007, and the chief contract negotiator from 1992 to 2007.

“The union happened because we had an administration that was tyrannical,” Griffith said.

The union was formed in response to the actions of Joseph Leo Driscoll, president of the college which was then known as SMTI (Southeastern Massachusetts Technology Institute), from 1962 to 1971.

Griffith acknowledged his major accomplishments: Driscoll secured the land for the campus and the funds to build it, but he began to abuse his power. After a meeting, Driscoll pointed at several faculty members and fired them on the spot.

“So the faculty got together and said, ‘Nuh-uh, that’s not gonna be,’” Griffith said.

After a battle with the administration, the faculty formed a union as part of the Massachusetts branch of the American Federation of Teachers.

The union re-negotiates its contract, which has grown from 15 to 200 pages, every three years. The contract covers everything from salary and benefits to the process of advancing in one’s career. That precision benefits faculty and administrators, because expectations and procedures are clear.

“I think absent the union, the campus would not be what it is,” Griffith said.

The Faculty Federation works with and supports the four other unions on campus.

“All of the unions here are actively engaged in student success in one way or another,” former chairperson of the Educational Services Union Bruce Sparfven said, noting that every employee from maintenance staff, to faculty members, to financial aid employees are working to help students succeed.

The union also represents part-time faculty — something almost unheard of in the world of higher education. Griffith said as a result of the union’s negotiations, part time faculty at UMass Dartmouth receive prorated retirement and health benefits.

“Just because you can find someone who wants to be a part time professor of the history of the American West, that doesn’t mean you can exploit them,” Griffith said.

Griffith said that the security and support of the union allows faculty to focus their energy on teaching.

“We are very proud that we’ve served students from the South Coast region,” Griffith said. “Our impact has been to advance the lives of people from here.”

Right now, the union is focusing on protecting the rights of the faculty and providing stability, Cathy Curran, the current president, and Grant O’Rielly, the current First Vice President, said.