C-Fac and college ramp up negotiations

By Bridget Ekis, Staff Reporter

This story has been updated.

1/18/2019, 6:45 PM

Less than 24 hours after stating in a joint announcement that the Columbia Faculty Union and the college had “met with a federal mediator to discuss the possibility of mediation,” the administration and CFAC sought to clarify their message.

“The union and the college have made recent progress at the negotiation table,” both parties said in an updated statement released Friday. “While we did meet with a federal mediator, we have not had a mediation session, nor are we seeking one. Given recent progress, we feel we should keep talking directly at the negotiation table and to give more sustained and frequent direct negotiations a chance for the next few weeks.”

The clarification is the most recent step to reboot the contentious relationship between the administration and CFAC.

Thursday’s statement shows progress from the union and college as they “agreed to increase the frequency and duration” of bargaining talks. The union’s last contract with the college expired Aug. 31, 2017, and they have been bargaining with the college since September 2017.

This week’s statements were the first joint messages from the parties since the beginning of this bargaining cycle.

In a follow up statement, the parties said that the team of bargaining principals—CFAC President Diana Vallera, CFAC Counsel Robert Bloch, Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot and Special Counsel for Labor Relations Terence Smith— has been meeting more frequently since the holiday break.

“As is typical in the advanced stages of negotiations, the principals will meet to discuss and hopefully resolve challenging issues to create a path to resolution,” both parties said in the statement released Friday.

This week’s developments come after a rocky bargaining cycle often filled with rancor and discord.

Last semester the union held a press conference Oct. 17 calling for President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim’s resignation, as reported Oct. 22 by The Chronicle. “Dr. Kim’s administration promotes a racist and sexist culture,” Vallera said at the time. “He creates a hostile environment where the most socially marginalized voices are silenced and disregarded.”

In turn, the Office of the President in November released a detailed analysis accusing the union of making misstatements on a number of issues when comparing contract proposals.

There have also been signs that the extended period of CFAC members working without a contract has caused friction among its members.

In a Dec. 5 letter to the editor sent to the Chronicle, Kathie Bergquist, adjunct professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, wrote that three CFAC members had been summoned before the union’s “Integrity Committee” based on anonymous charges.

Bergquist described the Integrity Committee as a “tribunal” and said it had “come into existence specifically as a vehicle to punish and silence concerned members who have been asking uncomfortable questions about the union’s finances and procedures…”

Carey Friedman, one of the members Bergquist said was called before the Integrity Committee, also commented on recent developments.

“It appears as if CFAC’s leadership has heard the questions and concerns of many of its members,” Friedman said in a Jan. 17 emailed statement to The Chronicle. “Any movement towards a fair and strong contract is good news for the Union and the Columbia College community as a whole.”

 1/17/2019, 6:00 PM

The college administration and Columbia Faculty Union announced Thursday they have met with a federal mediator to discuss the possibility of mediation. In a brief statement sent to faculty and administration, Special Counsel for Labor Relations Terence Smith and C-Fac President Diana Vallera said C-Fac and administrators agreed to meet more frequently in an effort to finalize contract negotiations as soon as possible.

This is not the first time the college and union have requested federal mediation. A joint request for a mediator was made to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Dec. 10, 2018.

In a November episode of the podcast “Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers,” Vallera said there was a possibility of a strike by the third or fourth week of the semester.

While Smith or Vallera were not available for further comment, one C-Fac member expressed optimism at the latest development.

“I do hope that the College and the Union, in collaborating with a federal mediator, can work together toward a mutually agreeable contract through negotiation,” said Gitanjali Kapila, adjunct professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department. “I believe that a process grounded in a rational assessment of the contract variables and in reasonable compromise will result in a contract that supports the concerns of all the stakeholders in our community.”

Correction 1/23/19: Gitanjali Kapila name was misspelled in a previous version of this story. The Chronicle regrets this error.