Daily Archives: June 7, 2024

Privatization; its history on campus and steps forward.

Imagine: you’re very good at your job. You like it. You’ve been working for the common good, for UMass Amherst, the State’s premier public university, for years, and every year, you’re getting closer to vesting in the state retirement system. Or maybe you’ve already hit your ten-year mark; maybe you’ve been doing the job for decades. You breathe a little easier knowing that your years of effort and modest salary have earned you a secure future.

And then one day, out of the blue, you receive an email from UMass management telling you that all that work may have violated multiple laws. That your pension is at risk. That in order to protect your future, you may no longer work as a public employee. That you must instead go to work for the private UMass Amherst Foundation (UMAF). Imagine that you and your officemates receive a very public pink slip from the Chancellor of UMass himself, and that your entire division of approximately 100 people–co-workers and friends–will also be liquidated.

This is not a fantasy: all of this happened over the course of six months, from December 2022 – May 2023, when the University privatized Advancement–and it appears that the administration and the UMAF may be on the hunt for more state jobs to cut.

What is USA & PSU doing to fight the loss of state jobs? What can you do to protect yours?

Read on for answers to these questions – but first, a little history.

How Management at UMass Amherst Privatized 100+ State Jobs

In December 2022, the university approached the unions claiming that the Massachusetts State Retirement Board (MSRB) had concerns about state employees at UMass in the Advancement division who performed services for the private UMass Amherst Foundation (UMAF). UMass management claimed that state pensions were at risk, they called into question the legitimacy of any fundraising work performed by public employees, and cited a state law that says: “in no event shall an employee of the [public] institution spend more than twenty-five percent of his work hours engaged in services for a [private] foundation.”

UMass management and UMAF then jointly hired a private attorney who presented a suite of scenarios to PSU and other campus unions for reorganizing and privatizing Advancement, which ranged from the somewhat disruptive (some state Advancement positions privatized) to total liquidation (nearly all state Advancement positions privatized).

The unions demanded that management bargain over the restructuring of Advancement and submitted a proposal that would ensure that state workers did the vast majority of Advancement work–which management immediately rejected. Instead, management informed the unions that they were going to change the “flow of funds” for all donations: no longer would donor funds go to UMass Amherst. They would all go to the private UMAF. This was a reversal of decades’ worth of practice at UMass, but management and its private attorney claimed that a “clean break” between UMass and the UMAF was needed in order to protect state-worker pensions.

In effect, this meant that no state worker could perform any fundraising function, for fear of risking their credible service and pension eligibility, and that all advancement functions would become the sole responsibility of the private UMAF.

PSU, along with USA and other UMass unions, has been fighting back for more than a year. We’ve staged rallies and letter-writing campaigns, all-member meetings, and speak-outs. We’ve gotten the news out to media outlets around the region and country. We’ve won the support of U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, as well as U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern. State legislators Jo Comerford and Mindy Domb supported the unions’ proposal to keep this public work publicly accountable at the university. The State Retirement Board itself publicly declared that they had no concerns about Advancement members’ retirement eligibility, and State Treasurer Deb Goldberg said, “this situation is clearly and absolutely 100% UMass Amherst’s responsibility,” adding that Advancement employees “have been confronted with a confusing, disruptive, and stressful situation for them and their families.” She demanded that the university “work with their employees” and “work with the union[s]” to resolve the situation. The State Auditor, Diana DiZoglio, sent a letter to Chancellor Subbaswamy asserting that the legal requirements for privatizing Advancement have not been met, and management must immediately stop the privatization process. And the state Department of Labor Relations has found probable cause on four occasions that management may have violated the law in privatizing Advancement.

Yet, despite all of this, UMass management blundered ahead with its disastrous plan. On International Workers Day, May 1st, 2023, then-Chancellor Subbaswamy emailed the entire Advancement division that layoff notices were being prepared and announced that UMass would go through with “the transfer of fundraising, alumni relations, and related Advancement activities to the UMass Amherst Foundation.”

One hundred and twenty-five of your friends, comrades, and colleagues had their jobs eliminated, their lives upended, and were forced to either find a new job, leave UMass all together, or go work at the private UMAF because of the unique nature of the work they do.

What to Watch out For

Despite the “clean break” that management forced, state workers all across the university are still being asked to do fundraising, alumni relations, and related advancement activities. You may be asked to help create MinuteFunds or work on alumni communications, to plan and promote donor events, or to send fundraising solicitations–all job duties that management has claimed as cause for privatization.

Without admitting it publicly, the university has completely reversed the “clean break” legal argument they used to privatize advancement functions and eliminate scores of state positions. Management now maintains that state workers can do this advancement work for a private foundation, as long as the employee does not spend more than twenty-five percent of their work hours doing so. But the university has so far refused to track time in service for a foundation in our singular time tracking system, HR Direct. In fact, Brian Harrington, of UMass Labor Relations, wrote an email to PSU suggesting that workers who fail to perform services for the private UMAF could be subject to discipline for insubordination.

And recently, a PSU member alerted the union to the fact that the president of the private UMAF, Arwen Staros Duffy, quietly approached a dean, called at least one state worker’s duties into question, and raised concerns about the member’s pension.

Duffy is using the very same job-cutting privatization playbook that started this whole mess, while Harrington is insisting that we must perform duties that put us at risk.

The difference is that this time, instead of taking on an entire division out in the open, management now seems to be singling out employees, one-by-one.

What We Can Do Together to Protect Your Job

You are not alone in your desire to do good work for a public university and receive fair pay and a well-earned retirement in return for years of service.

There is strength in numbers. If you are asked to do work for the private UMAF (or the system-wide private UMass Foundation):

1. Politely ask to have the task reassigned (if you feel comfortable doing so). 2. Reach out to USA President Mary Malinowski or PSU Co-Chairs Brad Turner and Andrew Gorry immediately to let them know If you have been asked to perform work for UMAF or think that the work you are doing may be cause for concern. 3. Record your time doing this work in this Google form

In the meantime, the UMass unions, along with our legal counsel, are working to get management to add a UMAF time code to HR direct, so that we can objectively document how many hours we work in service of the private UMAF using the same time-tracking system in which we have over fifty time codes to log everything from regular work-time, vacation time, voting time, time for jury duty, and blood-donation time, etc.

This is not the end of the fight to maintain the dignity and integrity of our public work. Together, we can ensure that no public UMass Amherst employee ever again has to go through the trauma of having their life’s work invalidated and their future imperiled by management.