Despite state budget delays, GCC approves raises

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt speaks at the school’s MassReconnect kickoff program in August. Despite budget delays at the state level, Schutt has approved pay increases for its Massachusetts Community College Council union members.

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt speaks at the school’s MassReconnect kickoff program in August. Despite budget delays at the state level, Schutt has approved pay increases for its Massachusetts Community College Council union members. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-29-2023 5:04 PM

GREENFIELD — Despite budget delays at the state level, Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt has approved pay increases for its Massachusetts Community College Council union members.

The now-expired contract, which was supposed to start in 2021, has been tied up in the Legislature, according to Schutt. She explained that both the Senate and House of Representatives have agreed on directing $26 million in the supplemental budget toward the Massachusetts Community College Council. However, the supplemental budget, which will fund raises and back pay dating to summer 2021, in its entirety has not been passed.

“We certainly didn’t want to have folks wait until after the holidays to get that … back pay and their raises and the COVID pay, and all the rest,” she said. “They’ve been waiting a long time. The holidays are here and they need to be paid.”

In the meantime, Schutt said, that cost will come out of GCC’s operating budget, to be reimbursed when a supplemental budget is approved.

The decision comes as members of the Massachusetts Community College Council union negotiate a new contract, while also fighting for equity at the state level, according to Trevor Kearns, president of the GCC chapter. The new contracts, which were supposed to begin in July 2023, ask for an 8% salary increase retroactive to July 2023 — an increase that would fall in line with what other public higher education unions have been offered, according to Kearns.

Negotiators at the state level, however, have proposed a two-year contract with a 2% increase across the board, retroactive to July 1, and subsequently an across-board increase of 8% split between July 1, 2024 (4%) and January 2025 (4%). According to a bargaining update dated Nov. 14, the state argues this is because the union is “bound to the parameters set forth by the former governor for [the year beginning] July 1, 2023.”

“We just want the same one-year contract with no language [change, the same] 8% contract extension that [Gov. Maura Healey] offered to the other, public, higher ed unions,” Kearns said.

According to materials provided by union members at a rally at GCC earlier this month, full-time faculty and professional staff have not received raises or cost-of-living adjustments since 2020.

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“It’s perplexing; it’s … devastating to our morale,” Kearns said. “Our members are … exhausted from increased workloads. We fully support MassReconnect and expanding it and offering free community college … but we are not even getting equal treatment with four-year colleges in terms of this raise for one year. We are not getting equitable treatment, because our salaries lag far behind salaries in other states.”

The GCC chapter of the MCCC voted recently to pursue work-to-rule, joining several other community colleges around the state. In other words, staff will follow contractual job descriptions and not take on additional work. They plan to do so until the expired contract is funded and a new contract is ratified with the 8% increase.

Kearns said union members want to achieve equality across public school environments.

“In the long term, we’re looking at equity,” he said. “The community college system in Massachusetts is unsustainable at the salaries that people are getting paid.”

Kearns noted the unions see their college presidents as “allies” in the process.

“They’ve been advocating for us in the ways that they can,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re in a delicate position asking the governor to change her mind.”

According to a statement from GCC, Schutt and the other 14 community college presidents in Massachusetts have supported the increases requested by MCCC since negotiations at the state level began earlier this summer, and have even urged legislators via direct communications to approve the supplemental budget that included the raises.

“The union contracts are negotiated at the state level, so we, as presidents, lobby our legislators as well as the governor to ensure fair contracts for employees and to ensure timely approval of budgets, but the reality is that’s all we can do,” Schutt said. “We don’t approve them and typically we don’t fund them, except in emergent situations like this.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.