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University of Arizona coalition, others believe early end to furlough plan a 'big win'
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University of Arizona coalition, others believe early end to furlough plan a 'big win'

University of Arizona campus, coronavirus

Before students return to dorms on the UA campus, they will have to test negative for the coronavirus.

An organization of UA faculty, students and staff, called the latest move of the university’s administration to seek an early end to the employee furlough plan as a “big win” on Thursday.

In a letter to employees, President Robert Robbins said, “Our recruiting and retention efforts this summer and fall have yielded better-than-expected results in net tuition revenue, and this positive difference over projections will be applied to the FY2021 budget. As a result, I am pleased to share with you that the Furlough and Furlough-based Salary Programs will end earlier than previously announced.”

The adjusted plan will be announced in the upcoming weeks as well as “how this positive performance impacts the end date for faculty and staff compensation reductions,” Robbins wrote.

Sandra Soto, a member of the Coalition for Academic Justice and an associate professor, said “Now what that means exactly remains to be seen. What we do know for a fact ... is that the enrollment numbers did turn out to be much larger than the senior leadership team had predicted.”

The University of Arizona Then and Now. Black and white photos from the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen archives paired with a color photo of the way the scene looks today. Produced by Rick Wiley / Arizona Daily Star

Since Aug. 10, the administration’s furlough plan has led to pay cuts for employees making $44,500 or more. The plan was supposed to last until June 30, 2021 — which is the end of the college’s fiscal year — to combat expected losses of a couple hundred million dollars.

More than 280 employees were laid off or did not have their contracts renewed this school year, the coalition said in early August.

The coalition was formed in April to begin a months-long effort to push the administration to seek alternatives to the plan.

In Thursday’s letter, Robbins noted that, “Despite this good news, we know the University continues to face long-term financial challenges stemming from the pandemic that will span years.”

Robbins said to combat the financial losses, the administration is looking into state and federal support and “feasible borrowing options.”

Still, the coalition responded in a news release that its membership has “numerous” questions including, “What will the short, medium and long-term implications be for students and employees?”

“In other words, we hope that by shortening the furlough/pay-cut plan the administration does not decide to continue to lay off and non-renew employees, and we want to ensure that student-related programs that focus on the core mission remain unharmed,” the organization’s news release said.

It’s partly because of the furlough plan that the coalition’s membership spearheaded the campus’ first employee union, which launched around Labor Day.

The union, called the United Campus Workers Arizona, is a chapter of the United Campus Workers, works in conjunction with the Communications Workers of America that represents 700,000 workers in private and public sector employment.

The chapter has already seen close to 400 members join its ranks.

Soto said the benefits of a “wall-to-wall” union is its accessibility across the campus community.

“Wall to wall means that anybody who receives a paycheck from the University of Arizona or once received a paycheck from the University of Arizona, so retired folks, laid off folks, can join our union,” Soto said. “It even means that some of our union members are undergraduate students because they happen to work in the bookstore or at one of the cafeterias. They get a paycheck from the University of Arizona, and they’re concerned about the labor conditions.”

In the union’s inaugural meeting Sept. 24, members will discuss the various campaigns they’ll launch to bring awareness on education funding. The union will also address the administration’s reentry efforts this semester.

“We’re not just concerned about students and faculty, we’re especially concerned about staff at all levels, from office staff who are having to work physically on campus, but especially what’s called facilities management staff,” Soto said. “So, all of the people who are working for low pay, to clean the classrooms to clean the offices to clean the campus, the groundskeepers, the folks who are most precarious, by which I mean vulnerable, both vulnerable to coronavirus and vulnerable to having to go onto campus and work.”

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1.

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Shaq is a public safety reporter and the Road Runner columnist, keeping readers up to date on transportation news. In 2017, he started as an apprentice and later worked part-time until graduating from the UA and being offered a full-time position in 2018.

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