BHE makes first financial offer to faculty and librarian union

(Professors and librarians gathered in O'Connor Hall with signs that read "Protect Public Higher Education." Photo by Allie Gath.)

The Board of Higher Education bargaining team made its first financial proposal to the Massachusetts State College Association at a bargaining session on Sept. 14, said C.J. O’Donnell, MSCA president.

Nearly 20 Framingham State faculty and librarians greeted the BHE team outside the bargaining room wearing MSCA T-shirt and holding signs reading “Protect Public Higher Education” to show solidarity for the MSCA team.

MSCA members are upset by the ongoing delay in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with their employer, the Board of Higher Education, and by proposed changes to the existing agreement, said Robert Donohue, MSCA vice president and president of the Framingham State MSCA chapter.

The MSCA is a union comprised of faculty and librarians from the nine state colleges and universities. Every three years, representatives and attorneys from both the MSCA and the BHE meet for a series of negotiations that ultimately result in a collective bargaining agreement, said Virginia Rutter, member of the MSCA bargaining team and interim chair of the sociology department.

The collective bargaining agreement is a set of conditions under which the members of the MSCA will agree to work. The CBA is an over-200-page document that encompasses topics such as faculty and librarian pay, benefits and workload in addition to minute details, such as how many times a week a cabin on a Massachusetts Maritime Academy training ship gets swabbed out, said Donohue.

Benjamin Alberti, a professor of anthropology, said, “The [CBA] does not stand in isolation. It is part of an entire system – a system that is designed to make sure students succeed at finding out what they want to do, learning from the best and moving into a career that is suitable for them.”

The current round of collective bargaining began Jan. 31, 2017 and has yet to result in an agreement, although the previous CBA expired on June 20, 2017. The expired CBA will remain in full effect until a new one can be created, according to the MSCA website.

Donohue said the delay in coming to an agreement is in part because the BHE had not been given approval from the executive branches of the Massachusetts government to put a financial offer on the table until recently.

O’Donnell said on Thursday, “The MSCA did receive a financial offer today – after filing an unfair labor charge against the BHE for not having the authority to offer one.”

The MSCA filed a charge of prohibited practice against the BHE with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations on July 18, 2017, according to a news update on the MSCA website by O’Donnell.

“Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 150E (the public sector collective bargaining law) requires that the parties at the table bargain in good faith, including having the authority to make proposals intended to settle negotiations. The BHE has stated to us repeatedly that they have no authority to make a financial offer,” O’Donnell said in the update.

In addition to the financial delay, during the bargaining, there have been proposed language changes to the CBA that O’Donnell characterized as “take-backs” in a July 9 news update on the MSCA website. These “take-backs” have been attributed not to the BHE, but to the Council of Presidents.

The Council of Presidents, which is comprised of the presidents from the nine state universities and colleges, also have representatives and attorneys present at each bargaining session.

Donohue said, “The Council of Presidents is there because ultimately, they have to live with most of the language in the CBA and they justifiably want their opinions heard.”

According to a work action posting linked on the MSCA website, “The BHE has no take-back language on the table; every language take-back comes directly from the presidents and vice presidents.”

Some of the proposed changes include eliminating the 15 percent cap on class sections taught by part-time faculty, the end of formulary salary increases and changes to the evaluation process, according to the MSCA.   

O’Donnell said, “The MSCA continues to battle against take-back language that we believe does not improve the educational environment for students, and to fight the presidents’ desire to replace full-time benefited positions with part-time non-benefited positions – a migrantization of the profession.”

Bridgette Sheridan, history professor, said, “It is concerning to feel like we’re uncertain about what is at stake for the future – both in terms of our own work lives, but also in terms of what it’s going to mean for the life of the University and the students and our teaching.”

Alberti said the changes to the CBA could have detrimental effects not only for professors, but for students as well.

“My biggest concern is that we will end up with a contract that undermines the ability of the system to work towards student success,” he added.

Jim Cox, an attorney for the BHE, said the schools appreciate the hard work the faculty does and are “doing their best to support faculty and students.”

Judy Otto, a geography professor, said she was there to meet the bargaining team on Thursday because she is a student of solidarity. “And by that, I mean Polish solidarity – when the Poles overthrew the communist government back in 1989. I try to connect my research to my life, and we’re all standing together for this cause that we believe in for our jobs and for the work that we do for students on this campus.”

Many MSCA members agreed with Otto’s sentiment.

Sandra Rothenberg, coordinator of library instruction and reference librarian, said she was present because “there are things that might be instigated that might hurt the students and the learning environment at Framingham State.”

She added, “I really want to keep this academic community strong for the students.”

Kelly Matthews, an English professor, said, “This is a great University, and we want it keep it that way.”

David Keil, a computer science professor, said, “We are concerned about this, and we believe students have reason to be as well.”

As the collective bargaining sessions continue to stretch beyond the June 20 CBA expiration date, the MSCA has encouraged its members to “work to rule.”

“Work to rule” is a form of protest in which workers do no more than is required by their contract. According to the MSCA posting, for professors, this means teaching no more than 12 credits and not attending weekend events without compensation, among other actions. For librarians, it can mean working no more than 37.5 hours each week.

Sheridan thinks the “work to rule” posting is “important.”

“I think it goes along with long established practices to ensure that we bargain in good faith. I support them,” she added.

In a statement following the BHE’s first financial proposal, Donohue said, “MSCA worked hard to create conditions that would lead the BHE to bargain in good faith. We are far from an acceptable offer, but at least we are now making some progress.”

In an earlier interview, Donohue said, “The MSCA feels really strongly that the things we are trying to achieve at the bargaining table benefit students and the University. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”

[Editor’s Note: See next week’s issue of The Gatepost for more on proposed changes to the CBA and the effects on students and professors.]

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