MSCA and BHE reach tentative agreement

The Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA) and the Board of Higher Education (BHE) reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on April 9 after 283 days without a contract, according to the MSCA website.

The CBA is the set of conditions under which the state college faculty and librarians who comprise the MSCA agree to work. Conditions include benefits, pay and workload, in addition to dozens of smaller details.

Contract bargaining began over a year ago on Jan. 31, 2017. MSCA members have expressed frustration with the pace of the negotiations following the expiration of the previous contract on June 20, 2017.

On July 18, 2017, the MSCA filed a charge of prohibited practice against the BHE with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations. It claimed the BHE, working in conjunction with the State College Council of Presidents (COP), was not acting in good faith by beginning bargaining without authorization from the governor’s office to provide a financial offer, according to a news update by President C.J. O’Donnell on the MSCA website.

The charge was dismissed in February 2018. 

Points of tension during bargaining have included a perceived lack of appropriate pay increases, an increase in the cap on part-time faculty and a push to give administrators tenure.

More recently, in a news update on the MSCA website, O’Donnell said bargaining team members were struggling to come to an agreement on vacation leave time for librarians.

Robert Donohue, MSCA vice president and president of the Framingham State MSCA chapter, said, “We feel really good about the approach we took, our tenacity, our trying to pull every rabbit out of the hat to try and get the best possible deal for our members.”

He added, “I’m feeling really comfortable that we got the best deal we possibly could.”

Vincent Pedone, executive director of the COP, said, “The presidents are very happy that we were able to come to an agreement.”

He added, “The presidents recognize that this was a very difficult agreement to reach because the financial parameters – which are not set by the presidents but set by the governor – are not as robust as in years past.”

Currently, the agreement exists in both written and verbal terms between both parties, said Donohue. Next week, both bargaining teams will meet to write up and initial the tentative agreement (TA).

All MSCA members are then given the opportunity to vote on whether to ratify the agreement. The Board of Directors reviews the TA and recommends supporting or rejecting a ratification. Ratification must be supported by a majority vote. Otherwise, the MSCA bargaining team must attempt to renegotiate, said Donohue.

Pedone said the BHE/COP has no such system – the TA is ratified by nature of being negotiated by the bargaining team.

The governor and the legislature will also review the TA and decide whether to fund the first year of the agreement. 

Donohue said the MSCA and the BHE/COP will be very cooperative in making sure the first year of the CBA is funded by the governor. “At this point in the process, the university presidents don’t want to see it fall apart. The union doesn’t want to see it fall apart. We have a shared interest now in getting the contract funded so that we can have some sort of stability.”

Even after all involved parties ratify the TA, the bargaining teams must still get together and agree on the exact language used in the CBA. Donohue added, “That’s another step, and that can really take a long time. But that can take place after the funding is in the works.”

Pedone said because the budgeting deadline for the fiscal year is approaching, he has already been in touch with the chief financial officer at the Department of Higher Education, who is currently creating a funding request. This request will be sent to the secretary of Administration and Finance.

He said, “Ideally, what I am seeking from the legislature is full funding of the first year of the contract, retroactive to July 1, 2017, and to have that included in the state university budget line items for the state’s budget.”