AMHERST, Mass. - This morning, the University of Massachusetts Amherst asked the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission to conduct an investigation to determine whether the Graduate Employee Organization/Local 2322/UAW, its officers, and individual graduate student instructors in the Division of Continuing Education have engaged in an illegal job action.
According to Associate Provost Susan Pearson, in a two-day period last week, seven graduate student instructors called in sick and cancelled the classes they were scheduled to teach. In at least one such instance, the instructor was reported to have informed his class the previous day that he would be calling in sick, telling students that the union was going on strike to protest the University’s refusal to grant union recognition to the graduate student instructors in Continuing Education. According to Kevin Aiken, director of Continuing Education, in an average six-week summer session, one to three classes are canceled because instructors call in sick. He said seven such cancellations in two days is an unusually high number.
Pearson said this action follows the union-organized delay of Continuing Education grade reports for several hours on July 18. Under Massachusetts law, "no public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike, and no public employee or employee organization shall induce, encourage or condone any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or withholding of services by such public employees." Also, Pearson said, the law further requires any public employer that believes a strike has occurred or is about to occur to petition the Commission for an investigation.
The Commission has scheduled a hearing on this matter tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, Pearson said, the University has sent each graduate student who called in sick a letter saying that if they were sick they are required to make up the missed work on Friday, Aug. 24; that they will not be paid if they do not make up the missed work; and that if the Commission finds the students took part in an illegal job action, the University will take appropriate disciplinary action.
Pearson expressed disappointment "at the possibility that graduate student instructors would employ a tactic in their unionization drive that might jeopardize the education of their students." She said such behavior is not representative of the many instructors who teach at the University.