MSCA librarians and day faculty ratify one-year contract extension

Over the summer, the Board of Higher Education and the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA) negotiated a one-year collective bargaining agreement between the two parties, to be in effect until June 30, 2021.

From Sept. 21-24, day union members of the MSCA participated in an electronic vote to “ratify the tentative agreement on a one-year day contract extension that include health and safety agreements,” according to an email from MSCA President CJ O’Donnell.

The agreement details issues ranging from faculty pay to COVID-19 protocols for AY 2020-21. 

According to Sarah Pilkenton, chemistry and food science professor at Framingham State University and a member of the union’s contract negotiation team, the union was more focused on negotiating about work conditions, rather than prioritizing a pay increase. 

The parties agreed that there would be no pay raise for this academic year because of the state’s dire economic circumstances. 

Article VIII, D(1)(a)(i) and D(2)(a)(i) of the contract addresses this issue, saying: “For the Fall 2020 semester only, student evaluations shall not be conducted. For the purposes of the Fall 2020 semester, faculty shall provide evidence of, and reflection on, how their courses were conducted, regardless of the modality.

“The absence of student evaluations for the Fall 2020 semester shall have no adverse effect on a full-time faculty member’s evaluation for reappointment, tenure, promotion, or post-tenure review; and shall have no adverse effect on a part-time faculty member’s evaluation. Student evaluations shall be conducted in the Spring 2021 semester.”

Pilkenton said, “Because so many classes have moved to some sort of a mixed format where some of the students are in the class and some are Zoom-ing in from outside, what we really kind of wanted was a little bit more flexibility for faculty and students as well.

“There are always going to be technical glitches. …There’s a huge learning curve for faculty and students alike when it comes to our new teaching and learning environment,” Pilkenton said, “To have classroom observations and student evaluations and all of those sorts of metrics when we’re learning so much, really just seemed unfair to the faculty.

“With respect to student evaluations, there are some issues with the SIR-II form with respect to racial and gender bias against the faculty member who is being evaluated. And so, really, what we wanted to do was to find a student evaluation of faculty that doesn’t have those flaws in them.”

Pilkenton added, “That doesn’t mean that faculty can’t ask students for feedback – sometimes, I do a survey of my students that’s different from the SIR-II, especially if you’re trying things in new formats. The SIR-II doesn’t ask those questions.

“We have some department chairs and some people who would serve on peer evaluation committees and they can’t come to campus because they don’t have childcare, or they may have a pre-existing condition that puts them at risk, and, so, how could they come to campus and observe a faculty member in a classroom and vice-versa? It’s just really complicated,” she added.

Student evaluations will not be conducted this semester. 

Nick Miranda, a junior, was “disheartened” to discover this. 

“I really like the evaluation at the end of the semester because it makes me feel like I have some sort of voice with how education is given to me,” Miranda said. “I know that as I participate during these classes, I was already thinking of some stuff to fill out at the end-of-the-semester evaluation form.

“I appreciate the attempt to not have racial or gender bias, but I still would like to have my voice be heard in some way, shape, or form,” he added.

The contract also eliminates formal classroom observations for AY 2020-21.

According to Article VIII, D(1)(b) and D(2)(b), “Classroom observations shall not be conducted for the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters. The absence of a classroom observation for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters shall have no adverse effect on a full-time faculty member’s evaluation for reappointment, tenure, promotion or post-tenure review; and shall have no adverse effect on a part-time faculty member’s evaluation.” 

Pilkenton said the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a need for new contractual language concerning work conditions.

“For everyone who is on-ground or in the virtual space, I think one of the most important things that we negotiated in this contract was a new memorandum of agreement about health and safety,” Pilkenton said. 

According to Pilkenton, the one-year contract “has COVID-19 measures in there and it answers some of the questions that faculty and librarians had about … what was our responsibility? What is another person’s responsibility? We were really concerned about what happens if a student comes into a face-to-face class and doesn’t have a mask on, if they have a medical condition that doesn’t allow them to wear a mask. How would that be dealt with? How would we be notified? And then, if a student comes into a class and doesn’t have on a mask, and it’s not a medical issue, how do we deal with that?”

Robert Donohue, professor of developmental psychology and president of the Framingham State College Professional Association (FSCPA), said it was imperative that a contract be in place at this tumultuous time. 

He said, “I think the most important thing for the community at-large, and for the members of the MSCA Framingham Union, is the fact that we’re not in the middle of a contract fight this academic year, that it got resolved, and that we can focus our energies on the mission of the University.

“You know, this academic year, with the pandemic, with all of the stress and discord in the country, to be able to not have to focus on a battle over contract negotiations this academic year, I think, is tremendously beneficial for all of the stakeholders in Framingham State. So, to me, not being in the middle of a contract negotiation this academic year is very useful,” Donohue said.

Pilkenton said the negotiated one-year contract would benefit part-time faculty as well.

“I don’t know if students know this, but part-time faculty, they actually have two different kinds of pay scales,” she said. “I’m not 100% sure how it works at Framingham State, but systemwide, what normally happens is when part-time faculty first join an institution, they’re paid at one rate, and after they’ve been at the institution for three consecutive semesters, they get kind of a pay bump. 

“And if they leave the faculty and don’t teach for a semester, normally, they would have to start back at that lower rate and work their way back up,” Pilkenton said. “We negotiated a term that says, for this year, especially since so many classes have been cut, part-time faculty, if they’re not teaching this year, they’ll still come back and be paid at that higher rate, and it’s really important for our part-time faculty.

“A lot of part-time faculty are trying to put together a living by teaching a bunch of classes at a couple of different institutions, and a pay cut like that is really significant to them now. It was important for us to give them a little bit of security in an insecure time,” she added.

Pilkenton said her experience serving as a member of the contract bargaining team left her feeling “exhausted.” 

While the union initially sought a three-year contract, she said the pandemic changed their focus.

She added, “We had a negotiation session the Monday before we learned that everything was going to shut down. … We spent a whole lot of the spring semester trying to rethink, because when we went into this, we were really thinking, ‘Well, we’re [going to] negotiate another three-year contract,’ and then the pandemic happened and we really had to change gears, because our focus really changed around, you know, continuing on with life as we knew it to this new life.” 

Pilkenton termed the negotiations this summer as “tense.”

“We came to a point where one of the parties walked away from the table. We didn’t think we would reach an agreement, and then we came back together,” Pilkenton said.

Donohue said, “It’s always a challenge, and part of the challenge is inherent to the process, and part of the challenge, I think, is unnecessary, but commonly happens. So, we’re dealing with a situation where the state continually underfunds public, higher education, and that puts more and more pressure on the campuses in terms of financial aid.

“What the campuses often want to do is just pass on that hardship to the employees at the institution, and we’re not willing to just accept that. So, we, the Union, and the University presidents, we advocate and lobby for more money for public higher education. But if that money doesn’t come, we’re still going to be pushing for reasonable economic conditions for our union members,” he said. 

According to Donohue, there are many stakeholders at the negotiation table: university presidents at state universities, the Board of Higher Education, and the Governor’s Office. Each stakeholder has an agenda and items they want included in the collective bargaining agreement.

“A lot of times, it’s very difficult to bargain when you’re bargaining with multiple different entities, all of which have separate agendas, so that makes it really challenging, and that has a lot to do with how collective bargaining in Massachusetts is defined in state statutes,” he said. 

Donohue said, “The situation now, with the pandemic and the economy, it also made a lot of sense for the Union side to try to do a one-year contract, rather than a longer contract, because with all the economic uncertainty, we were not going to be offered any kind of favorable, economic proposals.”

Sophie Fitzgerald, a junior, was perplexed by the union’s decision not to seek a pay raise. 

Fitzgerald said, “Implementing more health and safety measures is important and FSU has done a good job from what I can tell, but with tuition being the same price, and fewer costs from student programs, I don’t see how they wouldn’t have the money to implement both.

“With the pandemic, lots of people were not able to have jobs at certain points, and a lack of pay could really hurt them. I know that isn’t FSU’s fault, but [it] is still important anyway. It would be interesting to [see] the cost of everything [and] to see where the money is going and what money was saved from the lack of students on campus,” she said.

Natalie Spencer, a sophomore, said: “I think that they [professors] should be paid more, because … they still have to do work with sending emails and also making sure that everyone understands a topic [in class].” 

Framingham State’s President, F. Javier Cevallos, supports the agreement.

 “I’m very pleased we were able to come to terms on what I believe is a fair and equitable one-year agreement with the MSCA,” said Cevallos. “It provides necessary support for our outstanding faculty and librarians, and also some financial stability for the University.

“I absolutely believe a one-year contract is the appropriate solution at this time given the many economic unknowns that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As things begin to return to normal, hopefully in the near future, we will start negotiations on a longer-term contract as prescribed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’m grateful to the members of the faculty bargaining team for their work on this agreement.”

On Sept. 25, MSCA President O’Donnell posted a message on the MSCA website titled “One-Year Day Contract Ratified,” showing the results of the election. 

“The one-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) covering the period from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 was ratified by the membership Sept. 21-24 with 1,060 members voting in favor of ratification and 29 members voting against ratification. We are waiting to hear from management that they have also ratified the agreement,” wrote O’Donnell.

Donohue said, “Perhaps, with a vaccine, hopefully, we might be in a position to fight for a better economic package next year, than we could this year. … Hopefully, look for better times ahead.”