No break for labor negotiations

By Samuel Charles

The leadership of Columbia’s part-time faculty union, P-Fac, and the administration have been at odds throughout the academic year in regard to issues ranging from health care to job security to credit hour reductions. And while spring classes are concluding, the negotiations between the two parties will extend throughout summer with hopes of resolving as many differences as possible in a timely manner.

Initially, P-Fac asked the college to draft a new labor contract in January 2010, which it believed was fair to the union members, ideally giving them more job security. The process has slowed throughout the year. When Columbia presented the union with an offer at the end of March, representatives were encouraged. But the college believes the union is to blame for the slowly paced negotiations because of the leaders’ focus on issues other than job security.

“I’m kind of surprised P-Fac wouldn’t be more focused on compensation or job security since all of their public statements seem to be about those issues,” said Annice Kelly, vice president of Legal Affairs and General Counsel. “Instead, since our March 30 proposal, we’ve talked about issues other than those.”

The contract the college presented in March included many things P-Fac wanted, Kelly said. The union leaders have until May 31 to respond before the offer expires. The proposal includes a minimum of 60 renewable two-year teaching appointments to members with a guaranteed minimum of six credits per semester. It also offers the opportunity to appoint a union member to each departmental curriculum committee. The offer also open the door to additional wage negotiations in two years.

If the leadership of P-Fac accepts the proposal by May 31, the college offered to give all union members a 1 percent wage increase retroactive to the fall 2010 semester, according to an email sent to all union members from Louise Love, vice president of Academic Affairs.

But union members think the college’s offer doesn’t benefit P-Fac enough as a whole.

“In order to accept that offer, we’ve got to have an offer on health insurance and job security,” said Nancy Traver, publicity chair of P-Fac and adjunct faculty member in the Journalism Department. “The only thing the college has offered on job security is a very small percentage of adjuncts out of a membership of 980 will get two-year contracts. What about the rest of the adjuncts?”

Currently, part-time faculty members must be signed on to teach before the start of every semester.

The proposal made a point to mention all aspects of the new proposal were formulated based on conversations at the bargaining table between the college and union. It also details what Columbia did not agreed to, such as a tier-based system that would assign classes to adjuncts based on how long they’ve worked at the college.

“We did not agree to this tier system because the college’s primary responsibility is to assign courses in a way most beneficial to students,” the email stated.

The college also declined to increase payments to union leaders to $108,000—a 157 percent increase.

As of press time, the union has yet to respond to the college’s offer.

Both sides agree the bargaining sessions—aside from the recent contract offer—have been fruitless.

“We really need more [negotiation] dates,” Traver said. “We need more time for bargaining.”

Kelly, however, said the process has been slowed because of distractions and other requests presented by the union since the negotiations started

Since August 2010, P-Fac filed three separate Unfair Labor Practice complaints against Columbia, one of which was deemed to have merit by the National Labor Relations Board. That complaint was filed in regard to a situation in the Photography Department in which the administration made the unilateral—and legal—decision to reduce the four credit hour classes to three without bargaining with the union first.

Another was denied by the board, and the third was dropped by the union.

Though both the college and the union have express desire for a swift resolution, neither side can put a timestamp on when the negotiation process will be complete.

“There’s no timeline or deadline,” Kelly said. “The parties proceed as they proceed. I think the administration would like to move this along, which is why we put the incentive in there. We respond to what the union talks about, so I don’t really know—beyond what we’ve done—how to move

it forward.”