Negotiations conclude between union, administration

By LauraNalin

The United Staff of Columbia College settled with the college’s administration on Nov. 12 after three years of contract negotiations.  Since Nov. 1, 2006, the union had been attempting to finalize its first contract dealing with wages, hours and working conditions with the administration.

As previously reported by The Chronicle on Sept. 28, members of the US of CC had been negotiating staff hours and working conditions, and said they found it disheartening that Columbia’s administration had allegedly made changes to the contract mid-negotiation. However, the administration never made any comment on whether or not the changes had been made, but did state in September that the union’s claims were “not credible.”

Throughout the negotiations, the two parties were in separate rooms as Javier Ramirez, a federal mediator, aided the administration and the union. Michael Bright, president of the US of CC, said he believes that Ramirez’s presence helped a lot throughout the process.

“I think [Ramirez] had a huge effect on both teams,” Bright said. “I think he moved things along in a more timely way. Initially, we were sitting at the same table, and I think maybe being away from each other and just having a couple people come in from each team just seemed to work better.”

The issues that were settled upon within the contract included a fair share agreement, which falls under the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act, stating that all members of the bargaining unit must pay their fair share of union fees. However, if they have religious objections to union membership, they will still have to pay their dues, but are allowed to donate those dues to a non-religious charitable organization.

Another change made was regarding the No Strike, No Lockout policy which, according to the United Federation of Teachers, states that neither the union nor any union representative or employee in the bargaining unit can encourage strikes, lockouts or picketing during negotiations.

Other amendments included modifying the terms within the college’s Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy and changes to the Zipper Clause, which states that once the contract is negotiated the union is prohibited from bringing up other subjects until their next round of negotiations.

On Sept. 16, an e-mail was distributed to the college by the administration regarding union training hours. The e-mail stated that the US of CC’s negotiations regarding association leave days for union training had put a stall on the negotiations, which the union had claimed to be misleading. The union had been asking the administration for 50 leave days to be distributed throughout the entire 1,500 union members over a year.

John Murray, assistant to the chair of the Science and Math Department, said that the 50 leave days was not an issue with the most recent negotiations. Within unions, members have a right to have someone present with them at disciplinary meetings, so the administration provided representatives with leave time to be trained for such instances.

“We told them we were perfectly happy to use our time off to go to events that were related to the union,” Murray said. “They supplied time to train people to represent our members in disciplinary meetings.”

According to Bright, the next set of negotiations the union will have with the administration will be in February 2010 regarding union member raises, which are also included in the contract.

“We understand the climate out there is so difficult right now that to have any increases might be a huge detriment to the college,” Bright said. “We are committed to going forward with agreements as far as raises go.”

Linda Naslund, administrative assistant of the Fiction Writing Department, said that she is happy that the negotiations have finally reached a conclusion, especially at this time of the year.

“I’m glad it’s over, it was a relief to get it done,” Naslund said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time before the holidays, and I’m glad we finished it and I think everybody’s kind of relieved. It took a long time.”

Although the negotiations were settled, the changes cannot go into effect until all of the new amendments are signed by the college’s Board of Trustees. According to Bright, the administration said that it will try to get the new contract to the Board by Dec. 10, and the union hopes to have a working copy by then.

Naslund added that she is anticipating the contract going into effect.

“I’m just looking forward to moving on to the next step, which is staff approval, next the Board of Trustees, and then we can implement it,” Naslund said.