Professional staff voting on changing unions

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

Over the next two weeks, unionized professional staff and classified supervisors at the Amherst campus and employees at other UMass campuses will choose whether to remain affiliated with the Service Employees International Union or to transfer to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The mail-in election is being administered by the Labor Guild of Boston. Ballots are being sent this week to the home addresses of SEIU Local 888 members. Completed ballots are due Nov. 9.

Although SEIU has represented about 1,500 professionals at the two campuses since 1989, a reorganization two years ago shifted UMass employees from Local 509 to the newly created Local 888, which represents about 13,000 municipal workers plus some professional, maintenance and clerical staff at other UMass campuses.

But a rift soon developed between Local 888 president Susana Segat, who was appointed by the international union to lead the unit, and campus chapter leaders over a number of issues, including the adoption of a "temporary constitution," elections, the hiring of campus union staff and the involvement of campus union leaders in Local 888 affairs.

The schism led 1,000 UMass employees to sign a petition declaring "no confidence" in Segat and fueled the campaign to create a new Professional Staff Union affiliated with MTA. An agreement between MTA and SEIU led to the current referendum.

In a letter sent last week to campus professional staff, Segat and MTA president Catherine A. Boudreau stated that both unions “believe that workers should ideally be in a union which has strength and focus in their particular sector of the economy.”

The letter also stated “that since public higher education in Massachusetts is not one of SEIU’s core jurisdictions,” the two unions agreed to allow the local members to vote on the move to MTA. The transfer vote also has the backing of Andrew Stern, international president of SEIU.

MTA represents about 13,000 employees across the University, state college and community college systems, including faculty, librarians and clerical staff at the Amherst campus through its affiliates, the Massachusetts Society of Professors and the University Staff Association.