Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Union, university collude to cut Mass. higher ed pay

UMass Dartmouth (LGagnon CC BY-SA 3.0)
The faculty union and university here at UMass Dartmouth, which includes UMass Law School, are busy about the business of colluding to cut faculty (and staff and admin and everyone's) pay in response to financial (mis)management of the covid crisis.  The draft Memorandum of Agreement came out today; temporarily, I am parking a copy here.  In salient part:

The salary reduction shall be calculated as follows[:]

a. There shall be no reduction on the first $30,000 of regular salary and any regular contractual or other stipend for any faculty or staff member.

b. For each $5000 in excess of this threshold there shall be a salary reduction calculated as a percentage of the faculty or staff member’s marginal salary. This percentage reduction shall start at 5% (0.05) and shall increase by 1 percentage point (0.01) for each step up to a maximum of 10% (0.10).

In the law school, we were already hit with a $7,500-each cut in summer research support, which is a little under 5% for me, much more for others. With two generations of educational debt and current college bills looming over our heads in my family, this cut, just more than 12% in sum, hurts.  In a meeting of faculty yesterday, I got a sense of the impact on the lower ranks and less job-secure, and I was left livid.

The progressive structure was the union's idea, not the university's.  The university only asked for 5% across the board.  On Friday, union president Grant O'Rielly gleefully boasted to members that that wasn't good enough, so the union proposed a progressive plan to ensure that higher paid faculty would pay even more money and suffer a higher rate.  Victory!  The university was so impressed that it accepted and gave the union a pat on the head.  Maybe a cookie, too.  Though there was no mention of a cookie.  

The saddest thing here is the aforementioned collusion between union and university to make this all happen.  They entered into a pact by which no jobs would be lost on either side.  But on the admin/management side, there might ought be some jobs shed, and I scarcely see there would be impact on our educational mission.  You can't spit on main campus (not that you should spit in public, especially now) without hitting a handsomely compensated assistant vice chancellor of something-something.  I'm sure students will take solace in knowing that those jobs are all safe, while their newly virtual and long beleaguered legal skills instructors will now make less money than when they were hired.

The union entertained no other alternatives, either, besides admin cuts.  A reserve fund sits at UMass HQ in Boston, untapped.  As a colleague said yesterday, "it's for a rainy day, and it's raining."  The union didn't proffer a faculty furlough for December/January or May, which we could accomplish without cutting into the class schedule, and then faculty would be eligible for unemployment compensation.  Staff furloughs work that way.  The union didn't negotiate for a better separation-incentive program, or reduced workloads, or summer research support, or even a guarantee that the university can't come back to the well again next year.  The union just rolled over in self-effacing obedience to their management masters.

The greatest insult comes to those of us not in the union.  Thanks to Massachusetts's purported system of exclusive representation, we are compelled to accept the pay cut upon a union negotiation and vote in which we have no say.  And the university, to date and despite my demand, refuses to negotiate with us separately.  If that sounds, well, unconstitutional, yes, I think it is, especially since Janus.  That case said we couldn't be compelled to pay for union speech with which we disagree.  It hardly makes sense, then, that we are compelled to speak with union speech with which we disagree.  I am presently seeking counsel, and there's more than just me, so get in touch, #RightToWork advocates.  Exclusive representation is being challenged meanwhile in other states.

Massachusetts's bargain-basement approach to public education—a real shock to us when we moved here in 2011—was already criminal, especially for a blue state boasting a Kennedy legacy.  Now the state's proud blue labor tradition is belied by the reality that unions are co-conspirators in the crime.  Together the university and union make a mockery of UMass Law's "social justice" mission.

[UPDATE, Sept. 12, 2020:] 

In a case involving the University of Maine, the First Circuit upheld exclusive representation in state law.  The complainant is Jon Reisman, an economics professor at the University of Maine at Machias, and the case is now pending cert. review in the U.S. Supreme Court.  (Hat tip to a D.C. colleague.)

The First Circuit's reasoning is succinct and somewhat baffling.  The court held simply that state law requires the union to bargain for everyone, members and non-members, as a bargaining unit, but not as individuals; thus, Reisman is not "personally represented" and may be subject to whatever terms are struck for the bargaining unit.

Aside from the illogical and constitutionally unknown distinction between speaking for a "unit" and speaking for people, I fear Reisman's case was premature. At UMass Dartmouth, we see the damage wrought by exclusive representation, and the First Amendment problem is laid bare. The First Circuit pointed to Reisman's ability, under Maine law, to communicate grievances directly to the university, without going through the bargaining unit (though a union representative is then brought in to resolve the matter). At UMass Dartmouth, the university has expressly refused to hear grievances outside the union (specifically, mine).  Reisman also did not well articulate any concrete injury, rather, only the intangible harm of compelled association. At UMass Dartmouth, union non-members are about to suffer a big pay cut.  

Moreover, UMass Dartmouth non-members have been kept completely in the dark about the pay cut and excluded from informational meetings, debate, and voting on the measure.  So it can hardly be said that the union at UMass Dartmouth is acting on behalf of a bargaining unit of the whole, members and non-members alike.  The First Circuit's reliance on how things are supposed to work in the idyllic vision set out in statute in Maine bears no relation to the plain First Amendment affront playing out in practice in Massachusetts.

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A reminder that this is my blog, not edited or controlled by UMass Law/Dartmouth.  At the same time, I write in furtherance of public service, which is part of my job, and in which capacity I am protected by custom, contract, law, and the First Amendment.

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