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FROSTBURG — At least 15 employees are likely to be laid off at Frostburg State University after negotiations between college administrators and union representatives broke down Friday.

University administrators have been in negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 239 since Sept. 15, according to an email circulated by FSU to its employees on Friday.

“After negotiating in good faith, FSU has officially informed AFSCME today, October 16, that under Sections 26 and 27 of the MOUs (memorandum of understanding), layoffs will be implemented, and a 90-day notice will be given in advance to affected employees in the bargaining unit.”

FSU, one of six institutions in the University System of Maryland, is facing a budget deficit and reduced state funding.

“FSU started its budget process with over a $10 million deficit and we continue to face a budgetary shortfall of $1.43 million due to a reduction in state funding, lowered enrollment, COVID-19 expenses, and loss of auxiliary revenue,” according to the email. “FSU did not receive the additional funding the Historically Black Universities and Colleges in the University System of Maryland (USM) received and, as such, FSU finds itself in a more precarious financial situation than some of its USM peers.

“While FSU has exhausted its options at reducing operating expenses, the remaining $1.43 million shortfall must be closed by cutting FSU’s payroll in order for FSU to obtain a balanced budget as required (by state law).”

Despite an AFSCME press release expressing frustration with FSU representatives and accusing the university of “quitting” negotiations, FSU defended its process and ultimate decision.

“We presented a salary reduction plan in order to achieve its balanced budget,” said the FSU email to employees. “The plan included a graduated scale with those at the top bracket receiving a 10% salary reduction and those at the bottom bracket receiving a 1.15% reduction. AFSCME rejected the initial offer and responded with a counteroffer.

“On October 15, FSU presented their fourth proposal to AFSCME where no salary reductions would be applied to those making $40,000 or less and a fair percentage reduction would be distributed to the remaining brackets. The percentage of the reduction would be distributed to those brackets making $40,001 or more with an additional three administrative holiday days to be used in December.”

The FSU email said it understood AFSCME’s mission to protect its members, “However, FSU has the obligation to seek to do what is best for all of its employees, union and non-union. What AFSCME has proposed to date, is a shift of the burden from its members to other FSU employees. FSU cannot agree to such an unequitable outcome on behalf of its non-AFSCME affiliated employees.”

AFSCME issued a press release stating, “Despite having $20 million in reserves, on Friday, Frostburg State unilaterally quit negotiations with AFSCME Local 239, the union for all hourly and salaried university employees. FSU management announced they would lay off 15 unknown employees which they refused to disclose to us, in violation of our contract. FSU is the only University System school that is laying off employees instead of coming to an agreement with AFSCME.”

Danielle Dabrowski, president of Local 239, issued a statement in the release.

“FSU has repeatedly made statements that pay cuts or layoffs is the only way to balance the budget,” Dabrowski said. “This is inconsistent with the past cost savings actions by the university. In the past, most recently during the Great Recession, FSU furloughed employees and shut down campus to offset the budget deficit. The university has repeatedly refused to discuss furloughs as a tool to balance the budget.

“AFSCME Local 239 has sought efforts to shield FSU’s lowest-paid employees from taking pay cuts that could become permanent. AFSCME counter proposals included furlough days to address the FSU budget shortfall which was immediately rejected by the administration,” she said.

“Frostburg State is going out of its way to hurt employees on campus, punishing them for pushing back against the university’s demand to balance the budget on the backs of the lowest-paid employees. They have acknowledged to our union that they have $20 million dollars in their ‘fund balance’ and they refuse to spend 1% of it to avoid layoffs or salary cuts to the frontline workers at Frostburg,” Dabrowski said.

Greg Larry is a reporter at Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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