DARTMOUTH — A coalition of union workers at UMass Dartmouth has released a statement in support of a student petition for a tuition freeze at the university.

Called "UMass Dartmouth SOS," the online petition has been signed by more than 18,500 people.

The unsigned petition letter is addressed to UMass President Marty Meehan and copied to Gov. Charlie Baker, state legislators, and UMass trustees.

It expresses "extreme disappointment and outrage" at the April 13 decision to raise tuition at UMass schools, calling the action "unconscionable," particularly "when so many students and their families are experiencing unprecedented financial hardships."

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UMass Dartmouth union workers wrote in a May 12 statement that the coalition stands "in support of our students and their right to a quality education," going on to note that university leaders need to "forego any tuition increases during these economically challenging times."

The coalition represents staff members from AFSCME, AFT Maintainers, AFT Faculty Federation, ESU, and IBPO unions.

Coalition spokesperson Wendy Morrill told WBSM News that the petition is student-led, but it does highlight the concerns of the university's union workers as well.

She added that union and student leaders have had recent conversations about the school's future and often work together, as they did for a recent "advocacy day" event.

The online student petition notes that university administrators have received up to 11% raises on mostly six-figure salaries, while union employees have received 2% raises on reduced, mostly five-figure salary pay.

Meanwhile, staff health care premiums have risen by more than 3%, the letter writers point out.

According to the petition, the university has experienced lower student retention and enrollment rates, reduced quality of campus life and education, and inadequate funding, among other issues.

A UMass Dartmouth spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The union workers' statement noted that the university needs more faculty and support staff, adding that "offering competitive salaries is necessary to attract and retain the best people."

The coalition called for university administrators to work with unions and students to address multiple campus issues.

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