New bonus awarded to only non-union faculty and staff met with criticism

By Anna Busalacchi, Managing Editor

Elias Gonzalez

Editor’s Note: A source cited in this story, adjunct faculty member Michael Towns, died on Feb. 26, several days after being interviewed for this article. The Chronicle sends its condolences to his family and friends.

President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim released an email statement to all faculty and staff on Feb. 17 outlining a one-time discretionary bonus for non-unionized full-time and part-time faculty and staff to be included in their Feb. 28 paycheck.

In the statement, Kim said he appreciated faculty and staff for their commitment to students during “very challenging and stressful times,” saying the bonus exclusively for non-unionized faculty and staff is a way of recognizing these efforts.

Eligible part-time employees received $500, and eligible full-time employees received 2% of their base salary, with a minimum bonus amount of $1,500 and a maximum of $5,000. That means an employee would have to earn $250,000 to get the full $5,000. The statement said the calculations are based on an “employee’s base pay in their primary role with the college.”

Craig Sigele, president of the United Staff of Columbia College and academic manager in the Communication Department, said the announcement contained mixed messages.

“If this bonus is recognizing work affecting staff these past two years, then this should be extended to all employees of the college,” Sigele said.

In the statement, Kim wrote, “This bonus covers only non-union employees (unionized employee compensation is determined through a collective bargaining process).”

Sigele said bonuses and compensation are two different things that the college is combining.

Diana Vallera, president of the part-time faculty union, also known as CFAC, and adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, also disagreed with Kim’s rationale for the bonuses, arguing that they do not require a bargaining process.

Vallera said she viewed Kim’s rhetoric as divisive and anti-union. In response, Vallera said CFAC has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board about “the unfair distribution of pandemic bonuses” and “about the college’s refusal to bargain in good faith over mandatory subjects of bargaining.” On March 2 the Illinois Federation of Teachers released a press release about this saying, “filing charges seems to be the only way to attract the college’s attention.”

“It’s the antithesis of what a leader in DEI should be doing,” Vallera said.

CFAC also launched a petition on Saturday, March 5, asking faculty, staff, students, alumni and unions to sign.

On Feb. 23, the Chronicle published a Letter to the Editor from the Columbia Faculty Union Steering Committee, which called out Kim for what they described as his “hostility towards union employees.”

Michael Towns, the former publicity chair for CFAC and adjunct faculty member in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, said the bonus is offensive.

“[The college is] not really creating a work environment that leads to excellence in education,” Towns said. “You got your faculty having to worry about a whole bunch of things that they shouldn’t be worried about.”

In an email to the Chronicle on Feb. 24, Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, said, “The college appreciates everyone’s efforts and contributions.”

In the email, Lukidis said “compensation adjustments” occur at different times depending on employee status and union contract cycles. She said the last pay increase to non-union faculty and staff was part of an annual performance and merit review in Spring 2019.

In December 2021, USofCC members and the college signed a contract for a retroactive pay adjustment and additional raises from 2018 through 2023. Matthew Rillie, membership chair of USofCC and coordinator of student support in Student Diversity and Inclusion, said if future non-union staff raises are proposed higher than what is in USofCC’s contract, union members’ pay is increased to match that amount.

USofCC members received a contract signing bonus ranging from $750 to $1,500, and in 2019 CFAC members received contract signing bonuses ranging from $350 to $550.

Despite receiving a bonus, some full-time faculty are dissatisfied because it is short of what they were expecting after the Faculty Senate submitted a statement on Jan. 11 to Kim, Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David and Chief Financial Officer Jerry Tarrer, requesting full-time salary adjustments “across the board.”

“The system we have right now is that when full-time faculty wants something and they ask for it, the administration just at their will, at their whim can say yes or no to it,” said Christopher Shaw, secretary of the Faculty Senate and associate professor in the Science and Mathematics Department.

Madhurima Chakraborty, president of the Faculty Senate and associate chair of the English and Creative Writing Department, said the mood of many full-time faculty members is “bleak” because the faculty have not had a raise in years. Chakraborty said merit pay increases in Fall 2019 were awarded, but only to a select few.

Chakraborty also said the results of the last faculty survey presented to Faculty Senate members showed 30% of full-time faculty who responded said they were actively looking for jobs elsewhere.

“It actually doesn’t feel like our tremendous amount of work just over the last couple of years has been recognized. That is not what that feels like,” Chakraborty said. “It does not feel that anybody is seeing our work. … It feels very clear that since we’re not a union, our statement was absolutely not taken seriously.”

Chakraborty said the college should have used an equity-based model for the bonuses. She and Shaw agreed the maximum bonus amount of $5,000 is not reflective of most faculty’s earnings, and Chakraborty said to receive that larger bonus, a faculty member would already have to be making more money.

“To make that one-time discretionary bonus, a percentage bonus based on your salary, sort of reads to me as a judgment that those who are making more money are doing more work to make the college continue to offer vibrant curriculum, which really just sort of strikes me as disingenuous,” Shaw said.

Rillie said the bonus was a surprise to them because the union board met with Kim just the day before on Feb. 16 for their semesterly meeting and discussed “acting as a larger team.”

“[The bonus] did not land as a message of support to anybody, union or not,” Rillie said. “People really want to feel [supported] … because they deeply care about the work they do and the college.”

Rillie said the union staff should not be treated as a separate body.

“We see a lot of emails that are written fairly divisive to say this message is for the union, this message is for non-union, please see your respective areas,” Rillie said. “I think we are a small enough school that we can be communicating more, have better depth, and we can see all of us as more of a collective body much more than I think we do.”

Kim’s statement ended on the note that the college is “exploring other potential compensation adjustments for the next academic year.”

“There should be an intentional conversation around folks who are not unionized in the college who are staff; they have not seen a raise in many years,” Rillie said. “I wish [the conversation] would have happened this academic year; next year is still quite a bit off.”

Keith Kostecka, chair of the financial affairs committee on the Faculty Senate and associate professor in the Science and Mathematics Department, said he is hopeful for a salary raise for all faculty in the future — not a cost of living salary increase or a performance-based salary increase. Kostecka said all faculty have not had a collective raise since at least 2009.

Chakraborty said she wants to garner momentum from faculty to put pressure on the administration, but she is slightly more hopeful about receiving future compensation after meeting with Tarrer on March 2.

Towns and Vallera said the bonus for non-union employees is an example of the importance of labor protections, especially during COVID-19.

“[The administration does not] seek to understand the voices that are talking to them,” Towns said. “They’re just trying to justify behaviors and patterns and decisions that they’ve already made. But they’re not dialoguing with the people that they should be dialoguing with.”