The Labor Center is back

By the end of the spring 2016 semester, the future was looking dire for the Labor Center. The Dean had suspended admissions to our full-time Labor Studies degree program; we were informed that our Teaching Assistant (TA) positions would be eliminated and externships would not continue to provide tuition waivers; and our part-time faculty budget had been eliminated.

As this news became public, our alums and allies stepped up and mounted a campaign of a scale that UMass Amherst has never seen. They built a website, held conference calls, used social media and the press, and organized over 5,000 signatures to a petition to ask the administration to restore the cuts to the Labor Center.

As a result of their efforts and other expressions of support for the Labor Center, including a letter of support from the Sociology Department, the UMass Chancellor met with Steve Tollman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and Frank Callahan, President of the Massachusetts Building Trades along with other labor leaders in September and publicly affirmed his support for our Labor Center. In October he met with over two dozen Labor Center stakeholders and agreed to make a proposal to address our concerns about the Labor Center within 30 days. Subsequently the Chancellor and his staff met with Interim Director Tom Juravich. Below is an outline of what the Chancellor has guaranteed.

The top priority of the Labor Center faculty, the labor leaders and stakeholders was to fight for support for our graduate students so that they would not be required to pay full tuition. We are pleased that the Chancellor has restored all 6 of our 10-hour TA positions that provide both a tuition waiver and a stipend as negotiated by their union, GEO/UAW.

Additionally, the Chancellor agreed to waive tuition for up to 12 externships, now renamed internships. He agreed to convert these externships (where unions paid students directly) to internships (where unions or other organizations would pay the University). Under the new internship system up to 12 new students will now be GEO members. Furthermore, as a result of our meeting, the Dean will now convert all externships to internships in the College. We are confident that the labor movement will step up and support the Labor Center by hiring our students as interns.

The Chancellor has agreed to fund these positions for three years with funds from his office, which speaks to his commitment to the Labor Center. We would have liked to have had a longer commitment, however, with this kind of student support coupled with the support of the labor movement, we feel that three years from now we will be able to make a strong case for the continuation of support moving forward.

We have also resolved the process for selecting the next Director of the Labor Center. Labor Center faculty will play a key role in selecting who will lead the Labor Center. This search process will begin shortly.

While we are pleased about the large commitment the Chancellor has made to our students, we didn’t get everything that we asked for. We had requested a new faculty position, which the Chancellor did not support. We were also not able to secure any additional staff support for the Labor Center. In the short term, the Labor Center will use its own reserve funds to hire the part-time faculty necessary to cover required courses and to fill out staff needs.

A number of issues remain about the University’s priorities and budget models. As part of this process the Chancellor has recognized that not all graduate programs are the same, and that some graduate programs, such as the Labor Center, require additional resources. But there is still much work to be done.

In the final analysis, while we didn’t get everything we asked for, we got a commitment from the University about the importance of the Labor Center to the mission of the University, and significant support for our graduate students to build a new foundation for the Labor Center. No doubt there is a lot of hard work ahead but we hope we can count on our alumni and supporters in the labor movement and beyond to be part of that process moving forward. We will be convening a new advisory board for the Center, and discussing ways that our alumni and community allies can be more involved in the life of the Labor Center.

None of this would have been possible without the huge outpouring of support from our alumni and friends and we are especially grateful to Steve Tollman and Frank Callahan for their efforts.

Members of the Labor Center Committee

Tom Juravich
Eve Weinbaum
Jasmine Kerrissey
Clare Hammonds
Dan Clawson
Ofer Sharone


The Chancellor’s Press Release can be found here.