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UMass Workers Urge Campuses to Shore Up Shortages

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The University of Massachusetts system is the Commonwealth's third-largest employer. (Wikimedia Commons)
The University of Massachusetts system is the Commonwealth's third-largest employer. (Wikimedia Commons)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
May 13, 2021

BOSTON -- Workers in the University of Massachusetts (UMass) system say short-staffing is putting undue strain on existing employees, and limiting their ability to serve students' needs.

UMass campuses are the third-largest employer in the Commonwealth, with more than 10,000 faculty and staff, but university executives have been reducing the workforce in recent years, even more so in the last year with the pandemic.

Jariza Rodriguez, an administrative assistant at UMass Boston and a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said job duties don't go away when the positions are no longer filled.

"What justice are we truly doing for the students if the services aren't of the highest caliber?" Rodriguez asked. "Because we're short-staffed, because people are being pulled in multiple different directions, because we have staff that are burning out, because they're feeling so overwhelmed."

Groups such as the Teachers Association pointed out funding is there; the university system has gained access to more than $140 million in federal aid in the last year. They urged UMass to use some of that funding to shore up its staffing needs.

Wendy Graca, a clerk at UMass Dartmouth and a member of AFSCME Council 93 Local 507, said university leadership tells employees funding is short, while at the same time insisting they work to increase student retention and enrollment.

"There has been downsizing and consolidating of departments and educational programs, switching to less expensive software licensing programs that also are less user-friendly, outsourcing some work to new non-union departments while dumping other work on remaining union staff," Graca outlined.

Graca noted the issues are campus-wide and intertwined. When campuses are short of facilities crew members, the grounds and buildings fall into disrepair. When there aren't enough administrative staff, they cannot provide support to students and faculty in a timely fashion. And without enough professors, she added, students' academics suffer.

Disclosure: Massachusetts Teachers Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children's Issues, Civic Engagement, and Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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