Union contract raises concerns

By LauraNalin

A number of complaints have surfaced following the report of the union contract settlement. Some staff members at the college feel as though the United Staff of Columbia College, US of CC, was unclear about the voting process and feel the vote was misrepresentative of staff sentiment.

As reported by The Chronicle on Feb. 15, after years of negotiations, the US of CC and the college’s administration came to a contract agreement Feb. 10 resulting in what was called an 80 percent approval vote.

The staff members who raised discontent felt they were not fully informed as to their union membership and were frustrated upon discovering the voting results to be as high as they were.

It is unclear how many members of the union voted during the polls Feb. 10. In an interview conducted  on Feb. 11, Michael Bright, president of the US of CC and faculty member in the Film and Video Department, said that the exact number of members was unnecessary to declare, but a decentnumber of union members were involved.

Bright said they had picked about 20 members, which brought them to two-thirds membership. “But  we don’t really talk about numbers too much. We try to play those cards close to our vests.”

Chip Talbot, counselor for the Veteran’s Services in the Undergraduate Admissions office, said he feels as though the US of CC was being intentionally unclear in order to get fewer  votes.

“It’s one of those statistical things,” Talbot said. “If you decrease the poll of people voting, it increases the chances of the ‘yes’ votes. Those of us that thought we didn’t have to be in it obviously weren’t going to vote.”

Rebecca Aronson, Columbia Counseling Services therapist, voted against the union on the polls Feb. 10.  She said that none of her colleagues or herself were notified upon being hired that they were part of the union.

“Neither the [US of CC] nor Columbia’s HR department informed us,” Aronson said. “We were all surprised in January to learn we were automatically, and for some of us, involuntarily, part of this union. It’s my feeling that this whole process has lacked transparency.  Many people on Columbia’s staff are young professionals who have never been involved with a union and don’t know how it works and why it’s necessary. Even a simple e-mail from the US of CC saying ‘Hi, you’re part of this union, and here’s what you can expect’ was never sent out.”

The members of the college’s Human Resources Department could not be reached for comment.

Aronson added that every correspondence was over e-mail and there was no other outreach from the union, which made her feel as though her membership in the union was optional because the e-mails were not explicitly stating that it was necessary to attend the meetings.

“This might be naivety on my part, and I think on other people’s parts who are in the same boat that I am, but the e-mails were very much like, ‘Hi, come join us for a lunch meeting,’ and had a feel to it like if you were interested, you should go, but I didn’t think I needed to go,” Aronson said. “I had no idea that I was a part of this. I literally found this out for the first time in January. The e-mails never specifically said, ‘You are receiving this because you are part of this union.’ Maybe they thought I should’ve figured it out, but I get hundreds of e-mails a day, and I just feel like it wasn’t explicit enough.”

Another issue with the organization of the union  was that some felt as though the scheduling of the meetings were deliberately ill-timed.  According to Joan McGrath, administrative assistant to the chair of the Film and Video Department, most of the meetings were scheduled during lunchtime hours.

“I work in the student counseling center,” Aronson said. “I see students all day and have a pretty busy schedule, as do all of my colleagues, so it’s hard to get away from our desks to go to a lunchtime meeting.”

Talbot also found the meeting times to be problematic.

“If they were scheduled during lunch hours, I am meeting with these kids all day and have a packed schedule,” Talbot said. “If they had them later in the day, it would be at say six o’clock at night, which we have families, dinner to cook and whatever other fish to fry, so it was just a little difficult to work around.”

The meetings held were not recorded or videotaped, nor were the union members updated on what they missed in the meetings.

“It’s up to the members whether or not they want to reach out to us and find out what they missed,” McGrath said. “We gave some updates in the e-mails, but we didn’t update every single e-mail that we sent.”

Jennie Fauls, assistant director of first-year writing in the English Department, said that for the past few years, she felt as though she was receiving the e-mails on accident.

“I just didn’t feel as though it pertained to me,” Fauls said. “I’m a very active member in this community. Any chance I get invited to vote on anything I do, but this is just a complete mystery zone.”

Fauls said she has two main issues with the contract. She said one is that  she feels that the contract should have included a section for members of the union that are considered academic staff.

“I have so many questions about how that would affect us,” Fauls said. “Will it change how we are evaluated based on our job performance in teaching? How are things going to change with me? For instance, what if my boss gets disgruntled and his relationship with me changes because he has to follow some union guidelines that none of us are comfortable with?”

Bright said that there is no difference between staff that are part of the union, which is why the academic staff members do not get their own section.

“We’re all staff,” Bright said. “I don’t know what kind of difference they see.”

Fauls also added that she, along with a great number of her colleagues, did not vote during the Feb. 10 session.

“I know a lot of people here,” Fauls said. “I’ve worked here for 10  years. I don’t know anyone who voted. I don’t know what’s going on and I certainly don’t know what kind of changes we can expect.”

McGrath stated that she, along with other members of the union, tried for the past few years to reach out to those who are against the union.

“We gave them our home telephone numbers, our e-mails—we wanted them to be able to reach us at any time if they had questions or concerns with anything,” McGrath said. “However, they have yet to reach out to us, so I am not sure what to say about that.”

According to a recent spreadsheet listed on the US of CC Web site, there are 745 Columbia employees listed as members of the bargaining unit. Included on the list are at least two former employees from the college’s counseling office.

With two members on the list no longer employees of the college, an 80 percent approval vote would leave an awkward number of 594.4 votes needed to be made on Feb. 10 in favor of the new contract.

Through a phone call investigation on Feb. 18, The Chronicle called 15 staff members listed on the spreadsheet. Out of the 15 staff members interviewed, five members said they had voted in favor. However, 10 people said they did not participate in the Feb. 10 voting—two of whom said they hadn’t received a ballot in the mail, and three others asked were unaware that they were listed as members of the bargaining unit.