February 2011 Issue
February 09, 2011

Community college leaders to focus on contract talks

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United

Ellen Schuler Mauk

NYSUT community college local leaders who face difficult contract talks at a time of severe budget cutbacks can expect both practical help and solidarity from NYSUT's higher education leaders in the coming year.

Community college leaders in particular are planning workshops to help locals in anticipation of a challenging budget season.

"Management may hold up permanent employment in exchange for givebacks," said Charles Clarke, president of the Monroe Community College Faculty Association and a member of the NYSUT Higher Education Council. "I think folks need to be prepared for something less formative and more reactive," he added. "In my 40 years, I remember nothing this severe."

The State University community colleges have lost $58.3 million in operating funds this academic year. The City University of New York community colleges — whose contracts are negotiated as part of the overall CUNY agreement — have lost $21.9 million in operating funds in the same period.

"President Obama has recognized community colleges as a critical link in the education of our country's next generation," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who oversees NYSUT's higher education services. "We hope that lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels will put that recognition into action, by fully supporting and fairly funding this valuable part of our public higher education system."

Clarke and other college leaders met recently to plan NYSUT's annual Community College Conference in October. Bargaining in tough times is expected to be a main topic.

"Members may ask, 'Why don't we picket? Why aren't we negotating?" said Higher Ed Council Chair Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and a NYSUT Board member.

About 15 of the 46 SUNY community colleges do not have current contracts. In New York City, the Professional Staff Congress is negotiating a new agreement for its senior and community colleges. And the recession often plays into negotiations — even though management might use the bad economy to continue behavior that preceded the onset of the recession in late 2007.

A further complication is that the SUNY community colleges must have their agreement approved by their campus and local sponsor.

At Onondaga Community College, where two locals operate as one union but are negotiating two agreements, faculty and professional administrators have been working under an expired agreement since 2008. The college administration has cited the recession and its attendant budget cuts as a sticking point, but the locals have countered that for an administration pleading tough times, Onondaga has made some interesting expenditures.

In a brief to the fact-finder, NYSUT said it appeared "that the college, in addition to paying for increases for every title, other than those of the faculty and professional administrators, is engaged in spending money in other areas. In fact, spending is so prevalent, it is like a neon billboard."

Make that granite. Among the spending examples cited: two granite entrance signs for the campus, valued at more than $724,000.

In other cases, locals find that their relationship with one of the two parties with which they must negotiate is amicable, but the other is fraught with tension and delays.

At Erie Community College, the administration and the local agree that "we put the students first," said Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Association of Erie CC.

Erie County, however, is bucking the local on several issues, including health coverage for future retirees. The local will not be pressured into a contract that is not equitable for all members, said Sako, who is also a NYSUT Board member.