After approximately four years of back-and-forth that included petitions, pickets, rallies and undeniable tension with the administration, the United Staff of Columbia College’s bargaining team and the college came to an agreement regarding staff contracts.
As reported on the Front Page, staff members had the chance to vote Nov. 21 and 22 on whether or not to ratify the new contact. The agreement, announced in a Nov. 17 email to the union, is retroactive to Sept. 1, according to US of CC president Nick Hoeppner. Of the more than 70 percent of staff members who voted in the ratification, 98 percent voted in favor, as reported in the story.
The new contract includes simple changes such as holiday breaks, as well as larger issues that take a longer time to negotiate such as retroactive and future raises—something the union has fought for alongside cost of living adjustments—and better understanding of disciplinary and job termination processes—something that may have been helpful during recent collegewide staff layoffs.
It can easily be argued that negotiations for the union members’ contracts could and should have been solved months or even years ago—bargaining team member Cat Bromels even called the amount of waiting time “disgusting,” as reported in the front page story. It is a positive step in the right direction for the college and employee relations. Ratification of the contract is also a positive step showing staff members’ willingness to work with the administration to create a contract that is viable for both the institution and the people who have to live on the wages they earn.
Staff members who have long begged for Columbia’s administration to respect them would likely not stay at this institution without some sort of validation; the new contract can give them that.
During the Fall 2015 Semester at the union’s rally in support of cost-of-living adjustment, staff members predicted a “brain drain” of employees if the ones currently working were not given a contract or fairly compensated. A new contract could also prevent such drastic actions.
Tanya Harasym, US of CC’s vice president, said the agreement and ratification could not come at a better time, as reported on the Front Page, because of its ability to drastically improve current morale.
Hopefully, the morale issues that come with staff members’ extended bargaining is something the college has always taken into consideration as staff members worked without contracts. It should have been especially considered because of recent morale problems caused by events like enrollment decline and summer layoffs. In addition to these changes, there is a multimillion-dollar budget deficit that interim CFO Richard Dowsek said would come out of savings from employee-related expenses, as reported Nov. 7 by The Chronicle. The decision also followed staff concerns expressed outside of an Oct. 18 bargaining meeting that the college was “stonewalling” on the deal and that the addition of the new Associate Vice President of Human Resources Norma de Jesus—one of several H.R. directors to work on this project over the years—was delaying the process, which did not improve the staff members’ view of the college higher-ups working on the negotiations.
Knowing there is still a long way for the college’s staff members to get the appropriate respect they deserve, Columbia’s labor relations and human resources offices should be commended for finally putting some of these issues to rest. Now ratified, the agreement is not only a win for the union members, but also for the administration and the entire college.
This contract that is several years in the making shows that both parties are able to work together and put major conflict aside for the greater good.