Addressing Concerns Raised by AFSCME

Nov 3, 2020 12:45 PM

It has come to Frostburg State University’s attention that the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is the union bargaining unit for approximately 271 of FSU’s employees (out of 633 full-time employees) has recently issued statements to local media outlets regarding their perception of COVID-19 events occurring on FSU’s campus. FSU would like to address the following issues as raised by AFSCME.


For context, FSU began the FY ’21 budget process with an anticipated deficit of over $10 million due primarily to a reduction in state funding, but also a loss of auxiliary revenue during the summer, a smaller fall enrollment, with fewer students living on campus and fewer meal plans. This deficit was reduced significantly through substantial cuts to the operational budget, not making new hires or replacing retiring employees, and a waiver of certain financial obligations by the University System of Maryland. Unfortunately, the remaining $1,430,000 deficit had to be closed by cutting FSU’s payroll for FSU to obtain a balanced budget as required by Article III, section 52 of the Maryland Constitution. Note that over 65% comes from payroll-related expenses. 

FSU’s final proposal, after a series of negotiations with AFSCME, offered a salary reduction for all employees (union and non-union) ranging from 10% reduction for those at the top of the pay scale to 1.7% for those earning $40,001 to $50,000 — those making less than $40,000 would have no reduction in their pay. Additionally, those making $40,001 or more would receive three (3) administrative holiday days to be used on Dec. 18, 21, and 22. 

The objective was that everyone would share in the pain, with those at the top shouldering more of the burden to lessen the impact on those who make less. AFSCME’s last proposal would have shifted 96% of the salary reductions affecting their members onto the non-union employees of FSU. FSU understands that AFSCME’s mission is to protect its member employees and respects its advocacy on behalf of those 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 an unjustified and unequitable 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. Finally, when FSU decided to pivot to online learning after spring break last March, those AFSCME employees who were unable to do their jobs remotely were kept on FSU’s payroll while remaining at home, and those non-exempt employees who were needed on campus were paid administrative leave plus 1½ times their hourly rate for time worked to report to campus in order to do their job, as per the FSU-ASFMCE collective bargaining agreement.

It should be noted that FSU, after fruitful and congenial discussion with the Fraternal Order of Police, the other collective bargaining unit on campus, reached and signed an agreement whereby the police officers on FSU’s campus will share in the closing the budget in a way acceptable to its members.


COVID-19 and Pausing Classes

As noted in local media outlets, FSU made an announcement that it would be pausing in class learning starting Thursday evening, Oct. 29, until Thursday, Nov. 5. Throughout the semester FSU has conducted two “baseline” tests whereby any students or employees who are coming to campus are tested, as well as bi-weekly surveillance testing of a sampling of the campus population (proportionally: faculty, staff, students living on-campus and students living off-campus). A proportion of FSU’s athletes have been tested weekly. Test results are publicly posted in two-week intervals to match the bi-weekly testing results ( FSU also tests the wastewater leaving the campus and surrounding off-campus housing through the sewer system. FSU has also been in weekly, if not more frequent, conversations with the Allegany Health Department.

On Thursday Oct. 29, the Pandemic Response Team, which monitors approximately 10 COVID measures, received contradictory information. Preliminary results from surveillance testing was indicating levels on par with the previous reporting period. However, there was also uptick in symptomatic students reporting to and testing positive at the Brady Health Center (FSU’s student health facility). In particular, between Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon, the number of active cases that Brady monitors increased by 12 to 32. Some other of the COVID indicators were confirming that interim measures were recommended.  

The Pandemic Response Team concluded that the uptick in symptomatic self-reporting individuals most likely stemmed from clusters of socially intertwined individuals and was not likely to be a campus-wide event. Nonetheless, the team advised the President that the safest course of action, in an abundance of caution, was to pause classes until FSU could track any new positive cases in the coming days. The President agreed, thus the implementation of the pause for in-person learning.

On Monday, reviewing information from Friday through Monday, final results of surveillance testing and other indicators, FSU found that the indicators were improving, and there was further confirmation that the cases were largely in clusters and not community spread. (Health officials locally, statewide, and nationally indicate the largest spreader of the virus is through social interactions, including within households. This has been FSU’s experience as well.) The decision was announced to confirm the plan to resume the previous blended class format on Nov. 5.


AFSCME Employee Safety

It has been reported in local media that FSU has failed to negotiate with AFSCME regarding safety protocols on FSU’s campus.

FSU had four video conferences with AFSCME union representatives in August to discuss safety protocols for employees prior to FSU’s semester start on Aug. 17. AFSCME asked FSU representatives numerous and important questions regarding the safety of their employees, as they should. FSU provided responses to every question asked and followed up with answers not known at the time. The conversations were very cordial and AFSCME appeared to be satisfied by the answers as evidenced by FSU never receiving a letter asking for negotiations on the subject or requests for additional actions. Therefore, it is confusing at best, that it is being reported that FSU refused to negotiate safety issues. Until AFSCME’s Oct. 30 release through the media, FSU was unaware AFSCME had any concerns with the extensive safety measures taken.