P-Fac changes legal strategy

By Samuel Charles

The college’s part-time faculty union, P-Fac, has taken steps to consolidate its efforts to gain what it calls more equitable treatment of adjuncts from Columbia.

But to do so, it has withdrawn one of its unfair labor practice complaints.

On Feb. 15, the union withdrew the ULP it filed in January, which alleged that the college was reducing the number of credit hours assigned to long-serving adjunct faculty members.

In that complaint, the union also asserted the college was assigning those classes to younger and less experienced adjunct faculty, who are compensated at a lower rate.

Diana Vallera, president of P-Fac, told The Chronicle the ULP was withdrawn so the union could consolidate that greivance with the other ULP it has pending.

“We did not drop our ULP,” Vallera said. “The charge got so large that we worked out an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board agent, and he recommended we just roll over this charge into the larger charge.”

Vallera referenced the first ULP, which P-Fac has filed as a response to the college reducing four credit hour classes to three in the Photography Department without bargaining with the union first.

In the 2010–2011 academic year so far, P-Fac has filed three ULP complaints against Columbia through the NLRB, the government agency responsible for investigating such claims. To date, the NLRB recognized one claim and rejected another before the most recent was withdrawn.

On Jan. 14, Columbia filed its own ULP against P-Fac, claiming the union refused to give the college information it requested.

At one of the bargaining sessions between the college and P-Fac last December, Columbia requested information from P-Fac so it could discern from whom the union gathered its information. A written response to the college’s requests, signed by P-Fac’s attorney, Elizabeth Pawlicki, addressed each of the college’s requests for information claims P-Fac allegedly made during the bargaining process.

Pawlicki’s letter says the college requested “all information which supports the union’s claim that there is a trend that Columbia ‘lets go’ long serving P-Fac members without rational.” The letter continues, “The union denies that it claimed such a ‘trend.’” The union also addresses the claim that “senior P-Fac members have been disregarded and told that it is because there are younger/brighter/better faculty.” P-Fac denied making that statement. Instead, the union asserts the college’s bargaining team made such a claim.

“The union’s bargaining team recalls that Michael Niederman, member of the college’s bargaining team, repeatedly made statements such as ‘younger faculty would be better at modern technology,’ at the Dec.3 bargaining session,” the letter noted. In the union’s January 2011 newsletter it states “the trend [of cutting long-serving adjuncts’ classes] is particularly acute in the Arts Entertainment and Media Management Department, where 20 senior adjuncts have seen their hours handed over to younger, less experienced instructors.”

However, Columbia’s policy is to give preference to full-time faculty to teach courses before adjuncts, and the criteria criteria for assigning classes to adjuncts are unchanged, said Annice Kelly, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for Columbia.

“The classes Columbia offers are always based on the educational need of the student,” Kelly said. “We have always assigned classes first to full-time faculty and then to part-time faculty based on their qualifications and availability. Columbia doesn’t even look at the length of service a part-time faculty has at Columbia when assigning the class, either negatively or positively.”

However, the length of time adjuncts have taught at Columbia impacts their pay.

As of the 2009–2010 academic year, adjuncts with 21 credit hours of experience or less were paid a minimum of $3,756 per three-credit class.

Adjuncts who have between 22 and 45 credit hours of experience at the college were paid at least $3,947 per three-credit hour class. The other pay tiers, which rise in 26-hour increments, increase by approximately $200 each.

Columbia’s enrollment has decreased during the past two years, which is one reason classes were cut, Kelly said.

“It’s not a secret,” Kelly said. “Columbia had two years of declining enrollment. If there are less students, there are less classes we offer.”

However, Vallera said she thinks the class cuts aren’t due to decreasing enrollment.

“We keep asking for more and more information, and the college isn’t giving us any,” she said. “It’s clear they’re changing the way they’re assigning classes.”