AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is forcing UMass Amherst to make changes to their staffing.

In an email to the campus community, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said that nearly 850 employees, including dining hall workers and residence hall staff, will be placed on indefinite furlough.

The furlough, which begins on September 13, comes after what Subbaswamy described as "lengthy and productive negotiations with the AFSCME labor union."

Those employees will continue to receive their UMass benefits and will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The agreement between the university and the unions will also allow for a smooth re-employment process when the campus resumes normal operations.

Subbaswamy added that "some permanent layoffs are expected in the coming weeks," but work continues to try and lessen the number of layoffs.  He also said that discussions continue with labor unions to try and reach an agreement to "prioritize temporary reductions in hours and furloughs" which would impact approximately 450 more employees.

"I pledge that we will do everything in our power to ease this difficult transition for our affected colleagues," Subbaswamy said.

The staffing moves comes as the university works to enact a decreased operating budget amid the pandemic.

Subbaswamy explained that the university is projecting a $168.6 million loss in the budget, which he called "one of the greatest financial challenges in our 157-year history."

The revenue losses include:

  • $67.4 million - Housing and dining revenue
  • $30.6 million - Tuition revenue
  • $20.9 million - Other revenues, including grant and contract overhead income
  • $36.7 million - 10% hold-back from state appropriation due to uncertainties in state budget

Concurrently, UMass Amherst is expected to see a spending increase of $13 million for virus testing, safety, isolation, and quarantine measures.

Even with the staffing moves and other budgetary decisions - including discretionary spending cuts, early retirements, a hiring freeze, and senior leadership pay cuts - UMass Amherst is still facing a $20.3 million deficit.  Subbaswamy explained that university officials will continue to work with state and federal leaders to seek support "to help stabilize the campus budget and prevent more personnel cuts to make up that deficit." 

Western Mass News will continue to follow this story and will have more information as it becomes available.

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