College, P-Fac case could near decision point

By Connor Carynski, Campus Reporter

File Photo
Tanya Harasm and Clint Vaupel, staff members represented by the United Staff of Columbia College support, fellow staffers’ rights to teach classes.

The Part-time faculty union’s continuing conflict over whether or not full-time staff can teach has moved into a more intense legal struggle.

While the union has taken the conflict to federal court in January to enforce an arbitration and avoid a National Labor Relations Board decision that allowed staff to teach and become part of the P-Fac union, the federal agency is now attempting to intervene in court, according to a Feb. 17 court filing.

The NLRB is attempting to become part of P-Fac’s lawsuit against Columbia so it can oppose the union’s attempt to compel the college to pay  an estimated $500,000 arbitration award to union members who lost teaching assignments to staff.

The court will ultimately decide which takes precedence—a Jan.11 arbitrator’s decision that would keep full-time staff from teaching and compensate adjuncts for lost income or an NLRB decision that runs contrary to this position.

The NLRB went to federal court Feb. 17 arguing it needed to intervene to protect its “strong interest in maintaining its authority to decide the proper scope of P-Fac’s bargaining unit.”

 “In an unusual move, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington on February 17, asked the court if it could intervene in the lawsuit. The court set a briefing schedule on the NLRB’s request as well. The college does not oppose the NLRB intervening, but P-Fac does,” college spokesperson Anjali Julka said in a Feb. 24 emailed statement on behalf of Terrence Smith, the college’s special council for labor relations.

P-Fac countered the NLRB’s motion in a Feb. 22 court filing, arguing NLRB’s only role in the lawsuit is to enforce the arbitrator’s award, insisting “The Labor Board and the College try—desperately to make this case about something…[it] is not,” according to the record.

The college attacked the award in a Feb. 17 court filing that described arbitrator Robert Perkovich’s conclusions as “untenable” and accused P-Fac of trying to avoid the NLRB’s prior decision through its federal court action. “Attempting to circumvent the NLRB’s primary jurisdiction is precisely what P-Fac has done here,” the documents stated.

P-Fac’s contract, which the college signed in summer 2013, prevents the staff members from joining the collective bargaining unit, which is required to teach the classes.

Tanya Harasym, operations coordinator for the Learning Center and an adjunct professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences and English departments, said P-Fac’s decision to exclude full-time staff members from teaching opportunities through their contract was spurred by the college’s declining enrollment rate, the college administration and the restructuring of classroom maximums, which reduces the overall number of courses.

P-Fac lawyer Mike Persoon, an attorney at Depres, Schwartz, Geoghegan, Ltd., said the arbitration aligns with their Collective Bargaining Agreement and is used as a remedy for disputes with the college, as reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle.

“The arbitration [award] was issued on Jan. 11.,” Persoon said. “We immediately reached out to the college and asked them if they would follow it; they delayed answering us and never gave us a straight answer but it became clear to us they were not going to follow it,” Persoon said. “That’s why we took the proper action of moving to confirm the arbitration award to get a federal judgment that we can then enforce against the college to criminal contempt.”

Federal Judge John J. Tharp is scheduled to hear the litigants’ motions March 15, according to Persoon.

“The only thing that can stop P-Fac from striking as it so chooses is the preliminary injunction that we are asking the court to enter,” Persoon said.

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