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By Cyndi Menzel

October 20, 2006. The first day of the strike.  Students drove circles around the campus, honking car horns in support of Hartnell College Faculty Association’s efforts to get a professional contract for instructors. The five-day strike came after more than two years of negotiations because of a lack of respect for faculty and intransigence on the part of the college board of trustees and management.  Now, 17 years later, it looks like HCFA is heading down the same road with members saying they hope for the best and are prepared for the worst.

“We worked so hard to divert that strike,” said Kelly Locke, who was on the Organizing Committee at the time.  “All summer and fall, all kinds of actions and offers. And at every special board meeting we were hopeful, then our hopes were dashed. We had to do it.”

Then, as now, it seems to be about respect.  “They strung things out, their behavior was disrespectful. We were at impasse for so long and then they ignored the factfinding ruling,” said the 35-year veteran Mathematics instructor. “Now, it is about respect again. They can afford our proposal and they are making the choice to NOT prioritize faculty salaries.  And it looks like they are still ignoring our negotiations efforts.”

Picture of Kelly Locke holding news article from 2006.

Kelly Locke

In 2006 “our students and community came out in strong numbers to support us! This showed that our community values education and it gave us strength to know that we were not alone,” said Leti Contreras, who was a third-year tenure-track Mathematics instructor at the time. “Our students were not just victims of the strike, but active participants advocating for themselves and fighting for better learning conditions. Community members joined us on the picket lines and brought us water and food. Their kindness and support made me proud to be part of and to teach in this community.”

The strike provided an 11 percent raise, which bumped up the earnings for full-time teachers by between $6,000 and $7,000 a year, but still left salaries at the bottom statewide. Hartnell faculty salaries still rank last among the 14 area community colleges and faculty have been working under an expired contract for over a year.

Hartnell College and HCFA are heading to mediation October 25 and HCFA members will be out in force to support their bargaining team.  They say Hartnell College can afford their proposal; trustees and management choose not to.  Adding insult to injury, Hartnell College proclaimed college faculty “number one” at the start of the school year yet chose to announce their priority is to increase management salaries – those who do not actually teach students. HCFA’s proposal includes cost-of-living increases and health benefits for part-time faculty. Hartnell College’s proposal changed .2% since last spring.

While HCFA members are hopeful there will be a settlement at mediation, they are prepared to go to do whatever it takes for their students who deserve qualified and respected instructors, and for their community.

“A strike is a last resort, and HCFA members did not take that decision lightly in 2006,” Contreras noted. “However, we believe that it is necessary to protect the quality of education that our students deserve. As teachers in a Hispanic Serving Institution, we are committed to providing our students with the best possible education. This includes providing them with small class sizes so that they can receive the individual attention they need to succeed. It also includes paying our teachers fair wages and providing everyone with health care benefits so that we can retain and attract the most qualified applicants.”

“No one wins when there’s a strike,” said Locke. “It’s a failure of the board and administration to work with faculty. They’ll lose in ways that have nothing to do with contract settlement. The rift from 2006 was only healed with the election of new board members and the ouster of the previous president.”

“I never thought we’d be here again,” she added.  “We were able to do it before and we’ll do it again if we have to. Our community deserves better and the board isn’t always thinking about the community, otherwise they’d settle this contract.”

Contreras  agrees. “We are the lowest paid faculty in the region, and you, Board of Trustees, let this happen under your watch. What kind of message are you sending our students? Don’t they deserve to have the most qualified teachers? Why aren’t you willing to invest in our community’s education by attracting and retaining the most qualified faculty? When a teacher leaves for a higher paying position, our students suffer the consequences. Their classes are filled with last minute replacements or even cancelled, and this jeopardizes our student’s chances to succeed and potentially delay their graduation date.”

“Remember,” she added, “when teachers work together, students win!”

The Discussion 1 comment Post a Comment

  1. River says...

    Incredible to remember the history. I read somewhere the 2006 strike was the first community college faculty strike in 30 years? I would hate for that same college faculty to have to strike again just 17 years later. We don’t want to, but we WILL… Here’s to a fair, equitable contract NOW!

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