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UMass Lowell Adjuncts Protest Pay, Benefits Disparities

September 20, 2018

Ellen Martins, president of a UMass Lowell adjunct faculty union, addresses protesters Wednesday outside a University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees meeting. Behind her is a picture of UMass President Marty Meehan, where the union directed much of its anger over stalled negotiations. sentinel & enterprise photo /Chris Lisinski Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- Chanting “equal pay for equal work” and “Marty Meehan, do your job,” dozens of UMass Lowell adjunct faculty and allies protested at a University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday morning.

Earlier this summer, an advocacy group aligned with the adjunct union in Lowell launched a public campaign highlighting what they say is unfair treatment of faculty. Their efforts sharply criticized Meehan, president of the UMass system, and that message was echoed loudly Wednesday.

“We are vital to the mission of the university and to student success, and yet we are being treated like second-class citizens,” Ellen Martins, president of UMass Lowell’s adjunct faculty union, said into a megaphone before the crowd of dozens Wednesday morning.

Tess George, communications director for the UMass Lowell Union of Adjunct Faculty, said the school has about 475 adjuncts, about 45 percent of the teaching staff. Lowell’s adjuncts have been without a contract for more than two years after negotiations and mediation failed, and a third party is now conducting fact-finding.

George said adjunct professors in Lowell are paid up to 30 or 40 percent less than their peers at the university’s Boston and Amherst campuses and that, unlike those schools, they have no opportunity to obtain benefits.

“We’re not trying to get the same thing that tenure-tracks are,” George said. “We’re not comparing ourselves to tenure-track at all. We’re just saying we do the exact same thing from the exact same position in Amherst in Boston.”

Leaders of the university system say they continue to negotiate in good faith even as the process is in fact-finding and that the union has rejected several offers.

In recent months, the situation turned contentious. The Justice for Lowell group began airing televised ads this summer slamming Meehan and the UMass system for the handling of negotiations. On Wednesday, protesters carried signs with Meehan’s face and mock “report cards” giving him an F in categories such as respect and fairness.

About 50 members of the group, many of them adjunct faculty themselves, rallied outside the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center on Wednesday before a UMass Board of Trustees meeting.

They entered the room shortly before the session began, signs in hand and chanting loudly while trustees and onlookers found their seats. One adjunct, Jim Moran, carried one of the “report card” placards up to Meehan himself and asked him to sign it.

“I said, ‘Look, you’re the leader of the UMass system, you’re the person that needs to influence the bargaining process,’” Moran said after the protest had ended. “He told me, ‘Well, the bargaining process is done on the individual campuses.’”

Protesters left the board’s room before the meeting got underway, and Chairman Robert Manning joked at the start that “it would be uncommon to start a UMass Board of Trustees meeting without some kind of protest.” He then asked Jacqueline Moloney, chancellor of the Lowell campus, to speak about the negotiation process with the union.

“We are bargaining in good faith,” Moloney said in remarks that aligned closely with a formal statement from the university later on Wednesday. “We’ve been at the table for three years with our adjunct faculty. They are very, very important to us. We (made) very substantial, good-faith offers to the adjunct union, but some of the leadership has refused to accept. We are currently in fact-finding -- we’ve tried mediation, but we are now in fact-finding, which should conclude in a couple of months.”

In the meantime, tension is bound to continue. As protesters debriefed outside the building, they returned again to their chants and promised their efforts would continue.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski

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