US of CC votes on raises, contract extension, negotiations

By Alexandra Kukulka

The United Staff of Columbia College voted Sept. 18 on a Memorandum of Understanding to accept a temporary agreement with the administration.

The directive stated that the US of CC will receive a 3 percent salary increase, retroactive to Sept. 1, and a contract extension of one year until Sept. 1, 2013. The union accepted the offers with a majority vote, according to Michael Bright, US of CC president and a staff member in the Film & Video Department.

“We are pleased that we are able to work closely with the administration to get this done,” Bright said. “I am happy that the lines of communication were open and that we were able to bring this increase to our members on Sept. 30 with the rest of the community.”

During the meeting, held in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building, the organization discussed past contracts, their fear of failed negotiations and the relationship between the US of CC and

the administration.

According to Oscar Valdez, US of CC vice president and a staff member in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, health insurance benefits and other aspects of the contract will remain the same for another year. The extension gives the organization additional time to negotiate a new contract, said Bright, who anticipates the negotiations will start as early as next month.

The administration initially wanted to give the staff a 3 percent raise after a new contract was agreed upon, according to Bright. He and the US of CC executive committee rejected the college’s offer.

“Our first contract took three years to ratify,” Bright said. “You guys want to wait three years for a 3 percent increase?”

This is what led to the Memorandum of  Understanding, accelerating when the raise took effect, he said.

Many union members asked about which aspects of in the current contract will be carried into the new one. Specifically, three members inquired about wage reopeners, or the reopening of collective bargaining.

Once negotiations begin, the union will focus on adjusting pay rates for members who receive lesser pay than others in the same position, according to Bill Silver, a representative of the Illinois Education Association who works with the US of CC.

The new contract will take the same position as the previous one regarding wage reopeners, allowing the union to continue collective bargaining on salaries, Silver said.

“The last contract, which was [signed] three years ago, contained provisions to negotiate wage reopeners during the life of the contract,” Silver said. “That contract, if people vote for it, would exist for another year, and the negotiations that have been ongoing over the 2011–2012 [year] would continue to occur under the life of this extended contract.”

Other members of the US of CC say they believe the administration has not been bargaining in good faith and that it will continue not to do so.

Laurance Matthews, a mailroom clerk, shared his apprehension about voting in favor of the memorandum and asked about a negotiation schedule, which he felt was important.

“[The administration] has shown in the past that they are very good at dragging their feet,” Matthews said. “I am afraid that if I agree to this … they will go down the same path again.”

The committee assured him that the college has already set up specific dates to meet and discuss

the contract.

According to Valdez, the union has been negotiating with the college since March to secure both retroactive and prospective raises for the 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 school years, but talks have been difficult because administrators are being shuffled from one position to the next.

Bright said all communication between the organization and the administration was put on hold when Ellen Krutz, former vice president of Human Resources, left the college.

The US of CC was shocked when President Warrick L. Carter announced during faculty and staff convocation on Aug. 31 that faculty and staff who are not in bargaining contracts will receive a 3 percent raise, according to Valdez.

“[Once] the announcement was made, a lot of people from the community contacted the administration and told them we want to negotiate as soon as possible,” Valdez said. “We did not think it was fair for people who are in the union to not be getting the same pay increase as everyone else.”

After meetings with Senior Vice President Warren Chapman and Vice President of Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer Ken Gotsch, Bright said he is optimistic about the new relationship.

“It is a great time to get involved [in the US of CC] because there is a positive aura around this right now,” Bright said. “If we can just push that forward, there is no telling what this relationship with the college and the  [US of CC] will be.”