No results yet from three-day NLRB trial

By Lisa Schulz

After two years of contract negotiation between Columbia and its part-time faculty union, a trial to resolve alleged unfair practices has again resulted in a waiting game.

The three-day public trial was held Feb. 6–9 by the National Labor Relations Board at 209 S. LaSalle St. from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Robert Ringler, an administrative law judge, said a verdict is expected later.

Annice Kelly, vice president of Legal Affairs and General Counsel at Columbia, anticipates a decision in May. She said a delayed verdict is normal in these hearings, which unlike state or federal court trials, have no jury or closing arguments.

Contract negotiations have been suspended since Oct. 28, 2011, after a federal mediator left because of a disagreement on how his services should be used, said Associate Provost Len Strazewski. Since then, the college extended a contract offer on Dec. 19, 2011.

“We hope [P-Fac is] reviewing our proposal, taking it seriously, and we hope to hear a response,” Kelly said, adding the college recognized the contract had some things that could be tweaked to make it better.

P-Fac sent a letter to Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Louise Love on Feb. 13 requesting that negotiations resume, according to union publicist Nancy Traver.

P-Fac President Diana Vallera said the union has been requesting the resumption of bargaining sessions since October 2011, but received no response.

“We didn’t hear from P-Fac on this matter until this past Monday [Feb. 13],” Strazewski said, disputing Vallera’s contention.

Originally, during the bargaining process for a contract, P-Fac filed 36 unfair labor practice claims against the college, 31 of which were dropped. Two ULPs were settled before the trial.

The three ULP claims tried at the hearing involved a change of class assignments for adjunct faculty in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department for the Spring 2011 semester, the college allegedly withholding information from the union and an alleged obstruction of grievances.

“We put on a good case,” said John Stevenson, a HHSS adjunct faculty member who testified at the hearing regarding his ULP. “It proved to be very strong.”

Stevenson said he or a representative from the HHSS Department has attended the full-time faculty department meetings since the late ’90s, but was “abruptly told” his attendance was not in the contract.

In the settlement, both parties “didn’t admit any wrongdoing” but agreed to settle the matter concerning Stevenson, Kelly said.

A ULP filed by Vallera for intimidating an employee was also settled, according to her. A Feb. 12 arbitration for P-Fac’s claim that the administration unjustly terminated a union member of the HHSS Department was settled in the college’s favor, according to Kelly.

The member actually left a profane voicemail and declared his resignation,

she said. When asked about P-Fac’s reasoning for the arbitration, Vallera said, “I think we should focus on the trial.”

P-Fac will have to pay for the services of the arbitrator since the union lost the case, Kelly said. The arbitrator cost $1,500 per day, and the dispute lasted two days, not including time spent to read briefs and write an opinion, she said.

“We believe we have always been following the contract,” Kelly said. “We’re very happy with the arbitration ruling, which affirmed we were following the contract.”