Stronger local chapter means a stronger faculty
By Keith Law, CCA Director, District B
Back in 2008, Merced College’s faculty was hit by a perfect storm comprised of the encroaching recession and an administrative reorganization that was intended to seize power from faculty division chairs and place it in the hands of administrative area deans. It became clear that we needed to build a stronger union to defend faculty interests, so a group of us decided to do just that. Prior to this effort, the Merced College Faculty Association was primarily called into service during negotiations, as we counted on our elected faculty division chairs to address daily working conditions.
CCA provided help
My predecessor took advantage of a grant program that was initiated by CCA to assist locals to fund 40 percent release time for officers. When I became chapter president, one of my first struggles with the administration occurred when I applied for the release time and discovered that the district was billing CCA for 40 percent of our president’s salary and benefits, rather than the part-time replacement cost as the grant agreement stated. We won that battle, and later negotiated the 40 percent release time into our contract at the district’s expense. As the power struggle ensued, I filed over a dozen grievances on behalf of our members by the end of my first full term as president.
Another battle occurred when the district cut more than 60 courses due to budget cuts. This caused them to reschedule fall courses for full-time faculty members over summer break, which they intended to do without seeking the mutual consent of faculty members as stated in our collective bargaining agreement. We threatened a landslide of grievances, which was all it took to change the tone and get the district to work with us on this matter. This also sent a clear message that we intended to defend our contract, which set a stage for a more respectful relationship, even if reluctantly, on the part of the administration.
Raised part-time visibility
Another symptom of the cuts was that our part-time faculty lost those 60 classes, which was not recognized by our district as the loss of jobs that it clearly was. We realized then that our part-time faculty members were an invisible labor pool, so MCFA embarked on a mission to reverse that trend. First, we worked with then-CCA Vice President Lynette Nyaggah to include our part-time faculty as dues-paying members through the fair share process, which caused another fight with the district. After winning this battle, we created a part-time committee and established two part-time faculty positions on our Representative Council. We committed our negotiating team to place one part-time concern on the table each round of negotiations.
These efforts have met with progress on behalf of our part-time faculty colleagues: We negotiated a similar pay scale for part-time as full time regarding credit for education and years of experience, part-time faculty now receive pay checks on the tenth of the month for each month worked, enjoy expanded sick leave, and we established a new employee discipline clause that means they cannot lose their jobs arbitrarily due to retaliation or unwarranted discipline.
One of our greatest contributions was to establish the month of April as Part-Time Faculty Appreciation Month, wherein we recognize part-time faculty members for their contributions, including presentations to the Board and community about the contributions and challenges of part time faculty members. Part-Time Faculty Appreciation Month got its start at Merced College, but now is established CCA-wide, with a special grant fund to assist locals to produce events.
MCFA has sent six faculty members to CCA’s Building Strong Locals Academy, which means that many more of our officers and rank-and-file members are educated about union matters. With the assistance of our CCA leadership and CTA staff, MCFA was awarded a grant that was used to fund a retreat wherein over a dozen faculty members met over two days to form a model contract that we then used to guide future negotiations. We owe many of our victories to this guide, including the maintenance of salaries and benefits through the “great recession,” and the inclusion of binding arbitration into our grievance process.
With the assistance of CCA leadership and CTA staff and resources, we ran two successful trustee elections, unseating two incumbents. The tide of power changed dramatically in the unions favor. We have stopped the accrediting commission’s attempt to slip Student Learning Outcome evaluations into our evaluation process without being negotiated, we have exposed shenanigans in our district’s budgeting, and currently we are undertaking a CCA funded independent audit of the 50 percent law.
The battles along the way were often fierce and dirty, however, currently at Merced College we have a powerful union presence that actively participates in all major committees, board elections and actions, and administrative hiring.
My advice to local leaders everywhere is that they nurture strong relationships with their CCA leaders and CTA staff. This stuff really does work!
Keith Law is CCA Director, District B and past president of the Merced College Faculty Association.