Feds rule college erred in labor case

By Samuel Charles

by: Sam Charles and Drew Hunt

The national Labor Relations Board has officially declared the college to be in direct violation of federal labor laws.

Stemming from a decision made in February to reduce four-credit hour classes to three-credit hours in the Photography Department, the Part-Time Faculty Association decided to take action against the college upon being told it would not be consulted in the matter, despite the impact the decision had on adjunct salaries.

Because adjuncts are paid by the credit hour, the decision by the college effectively reduced their pay but maintained their overall workload.

According to Joe Laiacona, part-time instructor in the Interactive Arts and Media Department and current vice president of P-Fac, this is in violation of workers rights.

As mandated by the NLRB, in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act, the college will now be required to negotiate the effects the changed credit hours will have on adjunct salaries.

The credit reduction went into effect

this summer.

Bob Thall, chair of the Photography Department, said the college has always maintained the authority to implement changes within the curriculum without having to bargain with the union.

“The NLRB confirmed this,” Thall said in an e-mail interview. “We thought this decision should be made by our Curriculum Committee and the school based on educational considerations. Those

classes had the wrong number of credits assigned. Assigning four credits to those courses was simply wrong, and the mistake should have been corrected long ago.”

Additionally, Thall said the courses, which were previously four credit hours and “essentially” the same—in terms of their workload—as the three credit courses.

According to Laiacona, however, union leaders saw things differently and enlisted the help of the Illinois Education Association and its stable of lawyers in requesting the NLRB to file an Unfair Labor Practice against the college.

Meanwhile, Annice Kelly, vice president of Legal Affairs and General Counsel for the college, confirmed the college is not required to bargain with faculty concerning adjustments in the curriculum, but it is required to bargain if there is an affect on faculty salaries as a result of any changes.

When the college initially approached the NLRB to receive clarification on the matter, Kelly said the college was under the impression it would have no issues moving forward.

“If the decision affects the [union] members, then you have to bargain that decision,” Kelly said. “But the NLRB didn’t spell that out. But we are going to bargain, and we’ll see what the resolution is.”

Since the NLRB mandated Columbia’s compliance, Laiacona said P-Fac remains confident in the plight of the adjuncts.

“We were fairly certain the lawyer would counsel us to go ahead with it,” Laiacona said. “It’s not rocket science. There was a sense this is going to affect us, and we [had] to work on it.”

An e-mailed statement from Diana Vallera, part-time instructor in the Photography Department and current chief negotiator for P-Fac, and Jen Bills, part-time instructor in the English Department and former publicity chair for P-Fac, said the union’s overriding goal is to ensure the college be staffed with the highest quality of professionals in order to give students the highest quality of instruction if bargaining becomes complicated.

“Disputes and disagreements are always part of negotiations,” Vallera and Bills said. “Sometimes a neutral third party needs to help decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”

Vallera and Bills said the college is now taking the appropriate measures in bargaining the effects of its unilateral changes.

The college, however, was not anticipating any kind of backlash concerning its decision and remains steadfast in its position.

“It’s not like the college broke the law,” Kelly said. “Our position was [part-time faculty] were always getting overpaid. The reason [the courses remained] four-credit class[es] is kind of lost in the mist of time. We just finally got around to rectifying it, but nothing has changed except for the number.”

Neither part can legally elaborate on the nature of the bargaining that will take place, but Kelly said the college will sustain its position on the curriculum.

Vallera and Bills, meanwhile, maintain it will be business as usual once bargaining begins.

“Negotiations are challenging times for everyone, but we remain confident negotiations will ultimately lead to the greater good of the Columbia College community,” Vallera and Bills said. “We’re committed to it.”

Negotiations concerning these issues have not yet begun as of press time.