Having just barely adjusted to the reality shift brought on by the 2018 Janus vs. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, the MCCC is now tasked with another major reality shift. The deadly COVID-19 global pandemic, which has already caused untold suffering and, by the time this report is published, over 110,000 U.S. deaths, is a paradigm shift that is perhaps beyond our capacity to fully grasp at the moment.
Millions of workers have been furloughed or laid off. Hundreds of thousands of jobs may have been eliminated as businesses have been forced into permanent closure. Employment un-certainty is perhaps greater than it has ever been in this country. In the midst of this crisis, one that will likely continue for some time, what role do unions play? More speciﬁcally what is and should be the MCCC’s role?
The MCCC has been engaged in statewide impact bargaining with BHE Representatives since March 16, 2020. What complicated the early proceedings was the inconsistency and slowness with which federal and state ofﬁcials dealt with the spread of COVID-19. In early March when SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, had been spreading freely in the community throughout the Commonwealth for weeks, the college presidents were busy creating plans to bring students back onto campus with the idea of a targeted quarantining of students based on which foreign country they travelled to for spring break.
Although there were already many peer-reviewed articles indicating direct person Although there were already many peer-reviewed articles indicating direct person to person spread, some college presidents brought students and staff back to campus during spring break in hopes that a one-time “deep cleanings” would sufﬁce to stop the aerosolized virus caused by coughing sneezing or breathing from spreading.
It became clear from day 1 of impact bargaining, that looking out for the safety of our members would be paramount. The lag time in properly responding to the spread of COVID-19 was evident everywhere.
As late as mid-April, when Massachusetts had among the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country, and the United States was quickly becoming the leader in COVID-19 cases, the online questionnaires determining eligibility to be tested for COVID-19 still asked about recent travel on a cruise ship or to China or Italy. Every day’s delay in moving staff to working remotely was a signiﬁcant increase in prob-ability of members of the college community getting COVID-19. Because of the MCCC’s right to impact bargain changes in working conditions, and the pressure we were able to put on management to address safety concerns quickly, professional staff were able to work remotely well ahead of Governor Baker’s semi-shut down advisory that probably came out one week too late.
Along with safety, the MCCC must do due diligence to make sure that management does not use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to undermine our hard-won compensation structure, working conditions, and contractual rights. There is little true clarity about the ﬁnancial future of the commonwealth and the colleges. Federal bills might yet come through to assist, and potential students who ﬁnd themselves unemployed and who have become more comfortable with remote work may sign up for remote or online classes in higher numbers than anticipated.
In the months to come, things will no doubt remain uncertain and difﬁcult. We do not know if a vaccine or effective treatment is around the corner or years off. Without a vaccine or treatment, we do not know if it will be possible to make things safe enough to even partially open up the college for students to return to the classrooms.
What is certain is that now, more than ever, the MCCC leadership needs to stay in touch with its members. Vice President Rosemarie Freeland and I have started a weekly ZOOM “ofﬁce hour” so that interested individuals can interact directly with us and with each other to ask questions and to share concerns and strategies. If you would like to be no-tiﬁed about the office hour, email me at mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the list.
Despite the uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain and will not be changing. The MCCC will persist. The union, with its host of dedicated leaders, ﬁeld representatives, employed staff, and members will not let even a deadly global pandemic stop it.
Margaret Wong ■