Faculty and staff unions file unfair labor practices charge against the University

The unions are not seeking to reinstate the mask mandate by filing the charges

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Shilpa Sweth/ Daily Collegian

By Zac Brennan, Collegian Staff

On Monday, the Massachusetts Society of Professors, Professional Staff Union and the University Staff Association of the University of Massachusetts each filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against the University. These charges were related to the University’s handling of its mask mandate removal. The University lifted its mask requirement on March 9.

“The grounds are that the University had a responsibility to negotiate with the unions before making this kind of change,” MSP Co-President Eve Weinbaum said.

The University declined to comment on the filed charges.

Through a records request, the unions obtained a memo written on March 2 by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs John McCarthy and Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Tricia Serio to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. The memo was written on behalf of the Implementation Team and stated that the team unanimously recommend the end of the mask mandate. The memo recommended the mandate be lifted at 8 a.m. on March 9.

The memo also included plans to inform union leadership of the decision one hour before it notified campus. The announcement lifting the mask mandate was then made on March 8; the unions had two hours advance notice instead of one.

“It’s clear from the timelines in this memo that it would have been impossible for us to go to our membership and try to organize a response. In my opinion, they deliberately planned a roll out of this decision to make our work difficult as unionists,” PSU Co-President Brad Turner said.

According to the unions, during a meeting on March 3, administration representatives informed them that it was unlikely that the mask mandate would be lifted until early April, and that the unions would get adequate notice in advance. This was despite the memo from the day prior showing that the committee had recommended to lift the mandate on March 9.

The memo also included rationale for lifting the mask mandate, including a section stating concern over the mask policy impacting visiting student perception.

“In my opinion, it sure looks like they were worried about enrollments and the perception of visiting students coming to our campus over the health and safety concerns of some of our vulnerable members that they were obligated to bargain with us over,” Turner said.

The unions stated that waiting until the last minute to inform them of the mandate removal was representative of the negative relationship between the University and its labor force.

“It was a case of just not preparing people and allowing people enough time to make healthy decisions for themselves,” USA president Leslie Marsland said. “The way my unit feels on campus is that we don’t get any dignity and respect.”

The unions are not seeking to reinstate the mask mandate by filing the charges, but want protections to be put in place for those that need them.

“We do not expect the mask policy to be reinstated unless something changes for the worse, which I hope doesn’t happen. If COVID cases rise dramatically, if we see an increase in hospitalizations, I think that’s the only thing that would change the mask policy,” Weinbaum said.

“What we do expect is that the administration will work with us on the individual cases that are serious. I’m hearing a lot from faculty who are saying there’s a student who can’t come to my class because it’s not safe. And so what to do in those situations is the thing we really need to work out now,” she added.

Zac Brennan can be reached at [email protected]umass.edu.