NLRB trial concludes

By Alexandra Kukulka

by Lindsey Woods & Alexandra Kukulka

The legal proceedings involving Columbia’s part-time faculty union and the college resumed Nov. 27 after a month-long hiatus.

Testimony on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 concluded the trial in National Labor Relations Board court under administrative law judge Geoffrey Carter. His final decision concerning P-Fac’s accusations that the college is not bargaining in good faith will be announced Jan. 16.

During the Nov. 27 hearing, Len Strazewski, associate provost for Faculty Affairs, testified that Diana Vallera, P-Fac president and adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, should be suspended for filing a false police report against the college in January 2012.

The report was made when Vallera accused the college of photographing her home while her child was inside it, as reported by The Chronicle Sept. 4. Vallera’s nanny allegedly noticed two suspicious people taking photos of Vallera’s house and filed a report with Evanston police. The NLRB dismissed the charges against the college June 29 on grounds that they were “lacking sufficient evidence.”

According to Strazewski’s testimony, he was in charge of “fact finding” after a charge of misconduct was made, which required him to interview Vallera and the college’s General Counsel staff, who have been accused of surveillance, to figure out what happened. During their discussion, Vallera at first denied a police report was made, but “ultimately” admitted one was, he said.

The two attorneys in the General Counsel’s office proved they were at work the day of the alleged surveillance, Strazewski said.

He said he believes that Vallera committed misconduct because the description of the incident detailed in the police report did not match the actions of the General Counsel’s staff. He recommended Vallera be suspended because the situation was “not light enough for a warning, but not serious enough for termination.”

Strazewski’s statements follow the college administration’s decision to end disciplinary proceedings against Vallera in a Nov. 15 meeting, as reported by The Chronicle Nov. 6.

Strazewski also spoke about the effects the prioritization process will have on P-Fac. He said 70 percent of the college’s faculty members belong to P-Fac, which means prioritization will have a substantial impact on the organization because many of its members teach classes that could affected.

On Nov. 28, the defense claimed that Vallera has been treated no differently from other part-time faculty members. The lawyers asserted that many P-Fac members are experiencing reduced class assignments because programs and classes are being phased out.

The prosecution claims that Vallera’s classes were reduced to one, Introduction to Lighting, in fall 2012 because of her union activity. In the past, Vallera has taught one summer class, View Camera I, and two classes per semester, including Introduction to Lighting and Studio I.

Elizabeth Ernst, an associate professor in the Photography Department and coordinator of the commercial professional studio program, took the stand as a witness and claimed that Vallera did not receive a second class because of her “problem-making” within the department and lack of qualifications.

Ernst and Vallera both testified that their professional relationship became strained in fall 2008 when Vallera became an active union representative of the Photography Department. Vallera claimed Ernst threatened to reduce her classes  if she didn’t step back from her union activities. Ernst denied this, testifying that Vallera was “not a team player,” had little current independent work experience and did not attend department events, such as Industry Night.

Ernst said those factors, along with fewer classes available within the department, contributed to Vallera’s reduced class schedule, not her union activity.

The end of the hearing caps a 10-month dispute, which began Jan. 30 when the union filed unfair labor charges. According to Strazewski, a decision is expected next spring.