In a message to the campus community, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy announced that an agreement with the PSU and USA unions will place approximately 140 employees on indefinite furlough, making them eligible for unemployment benefits and preserving their UMass benefits, including healthcare. It will also reduce the hours of another 60 employees. All other PSU and USA employees will take ten days furlough between October and December of this year. Non-unit employees will take ten days furlough over the same time period.
That message is as follows:
Dear Campus Community,
With the semester fully underway and all but a few of our students engaged in remote learning, our campus is still grappling with the dire fiscal implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has hit higher education particularly hard, leading to more than 50,000 layoffs and furloughs at colleges and universities nationwide, and contributing to a statewide unemployment rate of 16.1%, the highest in the nation. Our campus has been affected similarly.
As I stated in my message to the campus on August 27, the nearly $170 million loss to our operating budget, resulting from the pandemic and the shift to remote learning, has forced us to make a number of difficult decisions, the most painful of which have concerned the employment status of a number of our staff members.
As we exhaust our options to identify cost savings and efficiencies in every area of our operations, I am writing to update you on the workforce reductions outlined in my previous message to the campus. In mid-August, we began negotiations with AFSCME, PSU and USA, the unions representing a number of employees whose work cannot be performed remotely or who have reduced work due to the minimal number of students on campus. Our goal was to find a solution that avoided layoffs and still met the operational needs of the campus. We reached an agreement with AFSCME in late August, which was conveyed in my earlier campus message, and on Monday afternoon we also reached an agreement with PSU and USA.
The agreement with PSU and USA averts layoffs. It will place approximately 140 employees on indefinite furlough, making them eligible for unemployment benefits and preserving their UMass benefits, including healthcare. It will also reduce the hours of another 60 employees. All other PSU and USA employees will take ten days furlough between October and December of this year. I am also announcing that non-unit employees will take ten days furlough over the same time period. The staff members impacted by these measures are our valued colleagues, and we deeply regret that the damaging budget impact of the pandemic has resulted in these measures. We remain committed to continuing to work with our labor partners to find mutually agreeable solutions to the very challenging issues the university is facing.
In addition to working with our staff unions, we have instituted a hiring freeze, eliminated a number of non-unit positions, offered a voluntary “early retirement” program, made deep cuts in discretionary spending and enacted salary reductions for senior administrators. We will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with MSP, the union representing our faculty, many of whom have expressed a desire to help alleviate the burden being borne by our staff. At this point faculty layoffs, salary reductions and furloughs have not been sought by the administration nor offered by MSP. That said, we hope to partner with MSP to find ways that faculty can help to minimize any further staff reductions as we work to resolve the significant financial challenges anticipated for the spring.
Despite today’s deeply disappointing news, in confronting this extraordinary pandemic we will continue to be guided by three main priorities: (1) maximize the safety and health of the university community; (2) ensure the academic integrity and quality of our educational programs; and (3) minimize layoffs and furloughs of our full-time employees. While we remain committed to these principles, the financial and operational impacts of the pandemic necessitate these regrettable reductions to our workforce.
Although the next few months and years are going to be daunting, I know we will come together with our students, faculty and staff to emerge from this international pandemic with a thriving and vibrant UMass.
I thank you all for your support and understanding.
Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy