Professional Staff Union fights for higher wages

‘Achieving pay equity is crucial to improving morale and retaining long-time employees’

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Caeli Chesin / Daily Collegian

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

Members of the University of Massachusetts Professional Staff Union Unit B are calling on the University to increase their wages, an ask based on wage comparisons to UMass Lowell and the private market. According to a press release by the union, in previous negotiations, University representatives told the union that they had “no appetite” for bargaining on pay issues.

A contract between PSU Unit B and the University was ratified on March 17, however negotiations over salaries are still ongoing. The contract created a new side-table where bargaining over wages will continue.

“Given administration’s resistance to bargaining over salaries, we know that we will have to keep up the pressure,” said Jonah Vorspan-Stein, organizer and office manager of the PSU, in an email.

The Professional Staff Union Unit B represents frontline supervisor workers at the University, making up a unit of 70 to 80 members. These members supervise employees who clean buildings, roads and facilities, as well as keep the dining halls running.

Many of these workers served on the frontlines during the height of the pandemic, taking furloughs and being the first to come back to work on campus, keeping essential services running.

“For the value that the University has demonstrated that we bring to the table, we want to see that reciprocated,” said David Wilson, a member of PSU’s bargaining team.

The unit hosted a rally titled “You Pay, We Stay” at Whitmore Administration Building on March 2 to demand “fair market wages, hazard pay for frontline workers, equity & respect, [and] good faith bargaining.”

The rally title refers to the decreasing number of frontline workers and their supervisors. According to an email from Vorspan-Stein, there are many unfilled PSU unit B positions, as well as dozens of vacant positions of frontline workers due to the uncompetitive wages.

This means that “our members are stretched thin while covering multiple positions,” wrote Vorspan-Stein. “The big picture is that unit B is chronically understaffed and overworked.”

Wilson added that many people still have to work overtime to make up for lack of staffing, which sometimes equates to 16 hours a day.

The Union had been bargaining with several representatives from the UMass administration, including the Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Andrew Mangels, to whom the press release was addressed.

During bargaining, the union was supposed to meet with the administration every three weeks to negotiate, but Wilson described an environment where individuals on the union bargaining team “don’t feel very respected.” They have since agreed to meet weekly for negotiations.

Wilson stated that many bargaining sessions had been cancelled and administrators have come unprepared. After the rally in early March, he added that “it feels like there’s energy that wasn’t there before.”

“Achieving pay equity is crucial to improving morale and retaining long-time employees, many of whom are receiving offers to leave UMass for more money,” wrote Vorspan-Stein.

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.