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TOWNIE: AIRLINES SUING, UMASS SCREWING

TOWNIE: AIRLINES SUING, UMASS SCREWING

 

Corporate attack on workers rights and a corporate-style attack on UMB by UMA

 

If there’s one thing I think people should do every day, it’s read the business press. Because that’s where you see how the world runs. A world that naturally includes Massachusetts.

 

Airlines sue Mass over sick time law

Case in point, Airlines for America—a coalition that includes JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, and several other carriers, according to the Boston Globe business section—sued Mass Attorney General Maura Healey last week over a 2015 law that guarantees sick leave to many Bay State workers. Including airline employees. “Now surely,” you’re all doubtless thinking, “an industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for decades of massive government subsidies couldn’t possibly consider doing anything that might hurt its workers by attacking a government program that helps them.” But no, the airlines are totally doing that. It’s what big corporations always do to their workers. Along with endless union busting.

 

According to the Mass.gov Earned Sick Time page, the law states that most workers “in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year to take care of themselves and certain family members. Workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.” It further states that employers “with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick time. Employers with fewer than 11 employees must provide earned sick time, but it does not need to be paid.” Employers can “ask for a doctor’s note or other documentation only in limited circumstances.”

 

The airlines are basically trying to argue—in the fashion of sadly deceased comic Phil Hartman in the role of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer—that the Mass sick time law “frightens and confuses” them. And that with all the billions of dollars they either gouge out of travelers or simply have the federal government hand them whenever they cry poverty, they can’t possibly figure out how to sync up all their various state, national, and international sick time laws they’ve already handled for decades with the Commonwealth’s more decent law. Despite, you know, computers.

 

Bottom line, they want an exemption from the law to make slightly bigger profits and escape regulation, and they’re suing Healey to get their way. Claiming it’s unconstitutional and shouldn’t apply to airlines. The same thing they did in Washington State in February, according to the Seattle Times.

 

The AG should have fun with this one. But readers can give her a hand by calling up the airlines and their front group and telling them to stop attacking the Commonwealth’s sick leave program.

 

UMass Boston suffers more cuts while UMass Amherst buys Mount Ida College

A couple of related developments in the UMass system over the last several days. First, UMass Amherst is buying the private Mount Ida College in Newton for $37 million, according to WBUR. It plans to use the campus as a base for Boston-area internships and co-ops for its students. The school will also assume Mount Ida’s debt of up to $70 million.

 

The situation is widely viewed as an unfortunate attack on UMass Boston turf by the more “elite,” better-funded, and melanin-challenged UMass Amherst. With UMB faculty, staff, and students; higher ed experts; and the editorial boards of publications from the Boston Globe to the Lowell Sun asking why it’s necessary for UMA to spend big money on a separate suburban campus to connect its students to Boston. Especially given that there’s already the perfectly good but woefully underfunded UMass Boston campus in the city itself. Which could certainly use an injection of tens of millions of dollars from any source of late.

 

Speaking of which, second, UMass Boston is slashing the budget of 17 of its research centers by $1.5 million, including the famed veteran-focused William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, as part of its attempt to get out from under the $30 million in mostly new construction-related deficit it’s been saddled with by a state government that insists on running its colleges like individual businesses. Rather than branches of a single statewide public service.

 

It’s worth mentioning, as I do on a regular basis, that we need to move the state and nation to the kind of fully public higher education system that many other countries have. Which spends sufficient tax money to guarantee every US resident a K-20 education. And tells private schools like Harvard that they can only remain private if they stop taking public money.

 

That’s the only way we’re going to stop this kind of spectacle. Where two parts of the same state public university system—one, Amherst, that primarily serves middle-class white suburban students, and one, Boston, that primarily serves working-class urban students of color—work at cross-purposes to one another. Amherst with a larger budget, and Boston with a smaller one. Separate and unequal.

 

For the moment, readers can help out by joining me in signing the petition to save the William Joiner Institute at change.org. And those so inclined can protest the Mount Ida College sale to UMass Amherst at the Board of Higher Education meeting on April 24. But I think critical calls and emails to UMass President Marty Meehan will likely be most effective. You can find his contact page on the massachusetts.edu website.

 

Check out TOWNIE EXTRA: YASER MURTAJA, PRESENTE! here.

 

Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

KILL SHOT 2: MASS PUBLIC HIGHER ED STILL ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK

UMass President’s Office at One Beacon Street in Boston Overlooking the Massachusetts State House

UMass President’s Office at One Beacon Street in Boston Overlooking the Massachusetts State House

July 12, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Will campus advocates spark a rebellion for proper funding or cling to failed politics as usual?

Hot on the heels of the UMass Boston administration issuing pink slips to 400 Boston non-tenure track faculty last month comes this month’s announcement that the entire UMass system will almost certainly face tuition hikes for the second year in a row. Capping a quarter-century of relentless increases in tuition and fees at state colleges and universities that have made the Massachusetts public higher education system the ninth most expensive in the nation.

Locally, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, UMass Boston students “will likely see the biggest increase because that campus projects a $22.3 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year.”

The UMass Board of Trustees will vote on the matter on July 14. But given the Commonwealth’s worsening financial position in the wake of the Brexit crisis, and an expected additional deficit of up to $950 million for FY 2017, there will be significant budget shortfalls that UMass leadership plans to deal with by jacking up tuition on already overburdened students.

My basic response to the looming layoff of one-third of the UMass Boston faculty was to call for a rebellion by students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents at that school. So it should come as no surprise that my response to news of this latest tuition hike is to call for a systemwide rebellion at UMass. And at the state universities and community colleges of the Commonwealth’s three-tiered public higher ed system as well.

As to the specific form of the necessary uprising, I cannot say for sure what will be most effective. But something like the campus walkouts that Boston Public School students pulled off this spring, plus a general descent upon the State House and the establishment of an Occupy-style encampment as a base of operations would be an excellent start. Because if the politicians don’t feel major pressure very soon, public higher education will begin to disintegrate in the Bay State as regular budget cuts get worse and worse.

To those who might suggest that a typical lobbying strategy will be more effective than an extra-parliamentary strategy at this moment in history, I would say that the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate how playing nice in a state political arena dominated by monied interests is getting public higher education advocates — or advocates for any public good — anywhere of late.

As it happens, campus activist groups and labor unions have tried that approach for over a decade but no major positive changes have occurred in state higher ed policy. The general political trajectory has been for the legislature to continue decreasing state support for public colleges and universities causing administrators to raise tuition and fees to fill the budgetary gap. Gradually transferring costs from government to individuals — changing higher ed from a right for the many back to a privilege for the few moving forward. A reversal of nearly two centuries of democratic education reforms.

Power accedes to nothing without a demand. But such a demand needs to fit the circumstances. If the problem involves savage budget cuts, big tuition hikes— 5 to 8 percent at each UMass campus and similar amounts at the state universities being currently projected for FY 2017 alone according to UMass President Marty Meehan — and an existential threat to public higher ed then one can’t improve the situation by proposing good but relatively minor reforms that barely begin to touch the crisis at hand.* Including the “fair share” constitutional amendment that may be on the ballot in November 2018 — which will raise taxes on individuals making more than $1 million a year and target some of the estimated $2 billion in resulting funds annually to higher ed.

A lot of damage can be done to state colleges and universities in the minimum of three fiscal years that it will take to see such a millionaires’ tax operationalized — assuming it’s not defeated by the usual business-led coalition of anti-tax voters. And it’s still no substitution for the progressive tax regime that is needed to end the Commonwealth’s financial woes.

So Mass public higher ed activists face a crucial decision. Will they play an inside game that has not worked before and is therefore highly unlikely to work now without the mass support they have been unable to generate with carefully scripted rallies and lobby days? Or will they try something new? Something bold that might generate the required popular support. Something that will inspire all the tens of thousands of students and alumni being sentenced to a lifetime of debt bondage by short-sighted politicians that refuse to raise taxes on corporations and the rich — even when the very things that have traditionally made Massachusetts a great state, like our public higher ed system, are in danger of being destroyed. All while emboldening faculty and staff to fight for their jobs with the fury a deteriorating political economic situation demands.

That remains to be seen.

*On July 11, the Boston Globe reported that community college tuition would be increasing as much as 10 percent in FY 2017.

HORIZON LOGO TRIMMED

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. 

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalismand media outlets in its network.

KILL SHOT: YEARS OF STATE AUSTERITY BUDGETS PUT UMASS BOSTON IN JEOPARDY

UMASS TOP

June 10, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS 

Community needs to join Faculty Staff Union movement for a return to full funding

There is only one appropriate response to the looming layoff of 400 unionized non-tenure track faculty at UMass Boston. Rebellion.

We are well past the era of shots across the budgetary bow of public higher education in the Commonwealth. We are now in the era of kill shots. It is not possible to eliminate roughly one-third of the faculty of a major research university without destroying that university. One cannot run a school without teachers, after all. Teachers who are already denied the possibility of secure, properly-paid, full-time, tenure track faculty jobs—as has become the dominant practice at colleges across America.

So, the threatened faculty, the remaining faculty, the staff, their Faculty Staff Union (Mass Teachers Association), the other campus unions, the alumni, and—most importantly—the students and their families have to essentially declare war on state government. Now. The entire UMass Boston community needs to demand proper funding for the school. Or risk losing everything that generations of Bostonians have fought for. A public university of our own with an “urban mission” to provide a top flight education to its residents with as little expense to them as possible.

The proximate cause of the crisis is a combined $22.3 million deficit that the UMass Boston administration recently announced for this fiscal year and next. Their unfortunate response is to propose: increasing class sizes, raising tuition (yet again), and savagely cutting faculty jobs.

But the ultimate cause is the long term starvation of the public higher education budget by the Mass legislature. According to the Mass Budget and Policy Center, state funding for public higher education has fallen from $1,339,713,711 in FY 2001 to $1,187,476,006 in FY 2016 (numbers adjusted for inflation)—an 11.4 percent drop. Yet it’s worse than that statistic makes it seem since the budget was well below the FY 2001 figure every year between then and now. Meaning that the system has lost more than a billion dollars over the last decade and a half.

Put another way, the ultimate cause is ideological. And that ideology has a name: neoliberalism. Its central precepts of fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation, and union busting in the service of making the rich richer have been followed with near-religious intensity for decades by both major political parties in state governments and in the federal government alike.

In the present context, neoliberalism translates to refusing to fairly tax corporations and the rich—which would allow our public higher education system to be funded to a tolerable standard—trying to run colleges like for-profit businesses instead of nonprofit services, and transferring once-public costs to individual families. Forcing students to take out increasingly burdensome loans to stay in school. A recipe for disaster, if ever there was one.

Writ large over the entire state government, the neoliberal ideology has led to one crisis after another—in the public health system, in public K-12 education, in the public transportation systems, etc., etc. And will continue to do so until the disastrous course its political partisans have put us on is reversed by popular political action.

All signs point to a small increase (1-1.5 percent) in state spending on public higher ed in the final FY 2017 budget, but nowhere near enough to make up for the years of cuts. Or even to keep up with inflation, let alone forestall the crisis at UMass Boston.

Saving UMass Boston—and the Mass public higher ed system—is going to take a real struggle. The Faculty Staff Union and its allies are doing a fine job of protesting the cuts. But they need solidarity. Lots of it. The kind of movement required has to be statewide and systemwide. And even that probably won’t be enough. A reform of the necessary scale will need help from outside the public higher ed community. It will need the newly emboldened radicals from the Bernie Sanders campaign, #BlackLivesMatter and other rising social movements to join the fight.

That’s a tall order to be sure. But every journey starts with a first step. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Sign the UMass Boston Faculty Staff Union petition.
  2. Get on the “Stop the Hikes and Cuts” bus at UMass Boston on June 15 and join the UMB community in protesting the upcoming UMass Board of Trustees meeting.
  3. Drop an email to FSU@umb.edu to get more involved.

Pressure on the UMass Boston administration is already mounting. That might explain why UMB Chancellor Keith Motley told the Boston Herald this week that “he has not approved any cuts on campus and that most staff who received pink slips would be called back for the fall.” Cold comfort for the 400 faculty members currently in limbo, unsure of whether they should start preparing for classes as usual—or continue looking for new gigs in a tight academic job market. And with UMass President Marty Meehan guaranteeing that budget cuts are coming to the entire UMass system by July, it doesn’t seem like Motley will be able to avoid finalizing the faculty layoffs for very long.

Unless he proposes cutting the often-outrageous administration salaries across the board to help balance the budget as public higher ed advocates have long suggested. Wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.

For a community perspective on the crisis at UMass Boston, check out the testimonial from recent graduate Cady Vishniac.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.