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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

January 16, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

College releases statement responding to possible faculty strike vote

Nancy Pringle, senior vice president and general counsel; Linda Petrosino, provost and vice president for educational affairs; and Gwen Seaquist, legal studies program coordinator, issued this statement representing the Ithaca College bargaining committee in response to the contingent faculty’s announcement that they may consider a strike vote.

Statement Regarding Part-Time Faculty Union Negotiations

On Thursday, December 8, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) bargaining team representing part-time, per-course faculty communicated to the press that they are prepared to hold a strike vote early in the spring semester if their demands are not met. As the college’s bargaining team, we are disheartened and frustrated at the adversarial tone, misleading allegations, and willingness to disrupt the learning environment for our students.

First, let us correct a few inaccurate assertions in the union communications. The union’s recent claim that part-time faculty comprise 41 percent of faculty is misleading about their overall role at the college. Part-time, per-course faculty teach 14.6 percent of sections and 15.1 percent of credit hours taught at the college. These courses cover a wide range of instruction, from three-credit courses to half-credit classes. Information about the distribution of types of faculty and the proportion of courses taught can be found in the facts & figures presented on the Part-Time Faculty Union page on the college’s human resources site.

As a reminder, current pay for part-time faculty is $4,200 for a three-credit course. This rate is among the highest for part-time faculty in our region. Each of the college’s salary proposals during negotiations has offered an increase over this figure. The claim that the proposals we presented on December 2 were regressive on this matter is simply untrue. We value our part-time faculty, and we are bargaining in good faith toward a contract that will increase their compensation and address a number of other important issues.

On December 2 we came to the table in good faith with the hope of making progress, and we made a comprehensive proposal on seven remaining articles under negotiation. In our proposal at the start of the session, the college presented a new model with an increase in compensation that would move us closer to the demands of the part-time faculty. This proposal was immediately rejected. In response, we offered a second salary proposal during the same session. This current proposal, which remains on the table for consideration, represents an increase across the board for all part-time faculty and an increase from our prior offer. We fully expect to receive a counter to this proposal and continue negotiations.

An additional disheartening moment during the December 2 negotiations was the union members’ threat that if progress made during the session felt insufficient to them, they would be willing to air their complaints about the labor negotiations in class time during the final week of classes. In a written communication this week, they indicated that they are preparing to “take whatever action is necessary,” including threatening to strike early in the spring semester, if their demands are not met. We do not believe that disrupting the learning environment should be more appealing to our part-time faculty than remaining at the bargaining table to work through these final proposals of our negotiations.

A far more reasonable and productive option is to enlist a federal mediator. The union has previously rejected the idea of using a federal mediator to explore ways to bridge the gap in our positions.  We believe that it is irresponsible to suggest a strike vote before enlisting the help of a neutral mediator provided for under the labor law.  We remain committed to our request to take this step.

Next Steps

Our next bargaining session is scheduled for December 12. If we are not successful in reaching agreement on the remaining outstanding proposals during that session, we will propose additional bargaining sessions to take place prior to the start of the spring semester classes.

We want to assure our students, faculty, staff, and families that the college is committed first and foremost to our students’ education. In the event of a strike, the college will implement a plan to continue the delivery of courses.

We strongly believe that disruption of the academic learning environment is not an appropriate response to the challenges that the bargaining teams are experiencing in the negotiations. We believe that we must remain at the bargaining table. In spite of how difficult or contentious the process can be at times, the college bargaining team is committed to bargaining in good faith, and we expect the SEIU bargaining team to maintain that same level of commitment.