UMass agrees to pay faculty, staff retroactive wages

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Written by Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE — University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan has committed the university to funding $10.9 million in retroactive pay denied to faculty and staff by the previous president, expressing confidence that the state will help foot the bill.

Meehan, indicating he hoped the deal with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and other unions would help start the school year “with a clean slate and with harmony,” said he is confident legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration “recognizes the need to fund this obligation.”

The pay raises negotiated as part of a three-year contract with seven unions representing 6,500 workers have emerged as a key component of the push by Baker and others on Beacon Hill to get Meehan to reconsider student tuition and fees hikes this academic year.

Meehan has engaged in numerous conversations with Beacon Hill leaders, some as recently as Wednesday, about getting the contract funding included in a supplemental budget bill expected to emerge soon after lawmakers return from their summer recess.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association said that if timelines for payment under the agreement are met, the MTA and other unions have agreed to withdraw their complaint with the Department of Labor Relations, for which a hearing has been set in November.

“President Meehan made clear that he respects the power and validity of labor contracts, and he kept his word to us that he would resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” MTA President Barbara Madeloni said. “He and I are both pleased that we could resolve this issue at the start of the new school year, and the MTA looks forward to working with President Meehan on securing the necessary funding from the Legislature in the years ahead to make UMass both accessible and top quality.”

According to the MTA, several unions settled contracts with UMass late last year and early this year covering a period that began in July 2014, when the previous contracts expired. The three-year contracts called for annual 3.5 percent salary increases, and were entered into, according to the university, based on “salary directives” from the previous Patrick administration.

The union said former President Robert Caret, however, did not pay the full retroactive salaries, arguing the Legislature had failed to adequately fund the contracts. The state approved $2.2 million of the $13.1 million needed to cover the first-year cost of the increases.

UMass officials said historically the state has funded the first year increases of any new labor contract. The university said it also planned to fund the second year of the contracts.

“We continue to seek state funding for the cost of these contracts and are hopeful that the Legislature and Governor will approve funding in the upcoming supplemental budget bill. We have made our case for the need for additional funding and know that the Legislature and Governor share our commitment to quality and affordability,” Meehan said in a statement.

Meehan, who took over the UMass system in July, told Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders last month as they urged him to reconsider tuition and fee hikes that he would first need the Legislature to appropriate additional funding for the university’s operation and collective bargaining contracts.

The conditional response came after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg wrote to Meehan, urging him to lower or eliminate the fee hikes based on the fact that the fiscal 2016 state budget included more funding for the university than anticipated when the board of trustees first voted the increases in June.

The fiscal 2016 budget approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Baker allocated $531 million for UMass, about $47 million less than requested by university officials. One university official said funding for the collective bargaining agreements will not, by itself, be sufficient for the university to consider rebating tuition and fee increases.

Copyright State House News Service