Over the past few years, the issue of student versus teacher labor disputes escalated. At first, these were just disputes over pay and job security. Teachers fought with students over who would get tenure at a particular college or university.

This was especially true of public universities, which are governed by the American Principals Association. The union that represented teachers at public schools in Massachusetts filed a charge against this state’s state university system, alleging that the administration of the university had violated teachers’ rights by releasing poorly qualified employees for what was called “non-teaching responsibilities.”

The case dragged on for nearly two years, and eventually the Massachusetts State Education Association (MSEA) intervened and negotiated a consent decree with the school system. Under the terms of the decree, the school system agreed to not fire or lay off any teacher during this time.

According to the decree, the government-appointed mediator of the case, including the Massachusetts mediator appointed by the president of the University of Massachusetts, was to be an associate member of the governing board of the university. Under the terms of the decree, the mediator was not allowed to participate in any aspect of the hiring, firing, or promotion process in any way.

When the arbitrator ultimately ruled in favor of the school system, there was much criticism of the judge who heard the case. One local journalist was quoted as saying, “I do think that this is a very poor decision. It’s just sad that the judge would allow a case like this to go to arbitration. He could have just determined who was right.”

In response to the outcry, a Massachusetts Governor appointed the chair of the Massachusetts Office of Administrative Hearings to investigate the matter. In November 2020, the head of the mediator position resigned.

“At this point in time, the focus of the Board of Higher Education in the state of Massachusetts is to make sure that all of the people who work within the system and deal with students are happy and content with their jobs,” says Victoria Carpenter, spokesperson for the governor’s office. “And this is part of that effort.”

Carpenter also pointed out that the Acacum Study, which is conducted annually by the American Association of University Professors, consistently rates the reputation of institutions across the country. The union does not make a distinction between teacher vs. employee labor disputes, however.

Currently, there is a merger with the University of Western Cape in South Africa that has prompted a number of acrimonious disputes between South African students and employees. However, the South African university system seems to be running relatively smoothly and getting along.

In general, some argue that disciplining teachers is no longer necessary, particularly when college graduates are willing to perform the duties. But whatever one thinks about the legitimacy of the Acacum Study, many teachers remain unwilling to accept the changes.

In Massachusetts, students are not solely responsible for arbitrating labor disputes with college students. Yet, the faculty’s complaints seem to focus on matters of job security and job satisfaction.

Whatever the merits of the case in Maine, it is important to remember that the acrimony between students and employees that it has created may not be limited to that one locale. For this reason, those who believe they may be subject to such disputes should consult with a reputable arbitrator, or take advantage of the Acacum Study.

Class Action Lawsuit in the Workplace
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