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By Gabriella Landeros

In an interview with Gavilan College Faculty Association (GCFA), President Robert Overson and GCFA Lead Negotiator Jessica Gatewood describe how the executive board and bargaining team empowered GCFA members to advocate for what is right and accept nothing less in their recent contract fight.

How did you accomplish the wins in your new contract?

This contract was the work of two different executive boards and two different negotiation teams on the faculty side, as well as four different district lead negotiators and a complete turnover in top administration at the college. We started negotiations during the 2020-2021 academic year and never settled because the district would not move up from a 0 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) offer. During this long battle, FCMAT came in to assess the financial struggles of the college, the board of trustees started talking about layoffs, and there was a complete turnover in top-level administration. Each time a new district bargaining lead came to the table, it felt like a frustrating reset, as we had to get their new team up to speed, repeat all the reasons why we were not settling, and reiterate all our positions.  Meanwhile, we worked to keep the faculty updated on the messages from the district, from the board of trustees and from the financial reports coming out of the college.

During this time, organizing was happening on various levels: a dedicated group of faculty developed a petition for a fair contract, which gained over 200 signatures from faculty and students; it was delivered to the board of trustees in hopes that they would be swayed by seeing overwhelming faculty support for COLA. Many faculty spoke during open comments at board meetings. During the 2022 graduation ceremony, faculty wore armbands to represent support for a fair contract. They also passed out information to the community attending the event so that our students and families would understand what the faculty were fighting for. Also, during this fight, student government leaders gave various talks at college-wide events (graduation and convocation) where they publicly addressed the student support for COLA for faculty and staff. We did membership drives through a series of phone calls and text messages, sent out faculty surveys to keep a pulse on how faculty felt, held forums on Zoom to hear concerns from constituents and developed a portion of our executive board meeting time deemed “GCFA Voices,” where faculty were encouraged to come to our meetings to share anything on their minds.

As we entered the fall 2023 semester, our bargaining team finally settled at the table; while we were not able to get the district to agree to a COLA for the 21-22 year, they did agree to a one-time $2,000 payment for all faculty. For the 22-23 year, they gave us the equivalent of the 6.5 percent COLA (part of it through a 4.5 percent COLA adjustment and the other 2 percent as a step on the salary schedule). They also agreed to retroactive pay, which was a huge win, as the district had held to a “no retro” policy for years. While this wasn’t the ideal win, it nonetheless felt huge when the district had consistently held to 0 percent, and our faculty union refused to move down from the state COLA for the 22-23 year. With support from our CTA representatives and a dedication to hold a hard line or go to an impasse from our executive board, the negotiators were able to think creatively to keep the numbers needed to secure the agreement.

What are some of the highlights?

Before this fight, a lot of faculty had no idea how the negotiation process worked or what went into a negotiation cycle. To keep faculty informed meant to start with the basics, and the executive board was able to develop a lot of educational moments to help faculty understand what it means to be at the bargaining table. We had sessions with faculty where we discussed the budget and how to read and interpret it. We had discussions about regressive bargaining to educate faculty about what that means and why we couldn’t just flip numbers once they were on the table.  We talked to faculty about the salary schedule and examined inequities between full-time, part-time, and non-credit schedules, highlighting the need for a lot more work toward pay parity. The implementation of these teaching moments will become standard practice moving forward, and this commitment has definitely been a highlight of the process.

What’s something you are most proud of?

Negotiations are a lot of work, and oftentimes the pressure feels just as strong from faculty as it does from the district – it can be a frustrating and lonely place, but our team of negotiators remained calm, answered questions from colleagues even when they felt like attacks and held firm at the table.  Many hours were spent in discussion regarding strategies, researching what was happening at other colleges and brainstorming with our CTA representative.

As negotiations chair, I can say that the faculty sitting at the table with me were key to our success. They were creative and eloquent at the table and were dedicated to clarifying the misinformation circulating through the faculty.  They are amazing human beings, and I feel grateful to work with them.

–GCFA Lead Negotiator Jessica Gatewood

What piece of advice do you have for other community college chapters?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other colleges to see what is working and what isn’t in their own negotiations. It is easy to catch wind of ‘wins’ happening around you, but often those wins are far more complicated than they seem. Talking to people doing the work rather than listening to the rumor mill about what other colleges are achieving will give you a far better insight into the circumstances happening in your neighboring institutions.

If your CTA representative isn’t already working to coordinate the local chapters, ask for their assistance in doing so.  Our representative, Josh Kob, has been fantastic in sharing information from one team to another and keeping us all tied into each other’s challenges and successes. It is great to be able to go to a CCA conference and know the people from other campuses and what they have been up to. It helps to develop a sense of community, and it is refreshing to talk to other faculty who understand what you are doing at the table.

What do you envision for your chapter’s future?

Our college is about to hire 16 new full-time faculty, so we are hoping for a lot more involvement in our union and bringing in new voices to help us move forward. We also received a $10k grant from CTA to work on organizing, so we are developing plans for those funds to bring in new energy to the work we are doing.

What made you want to take on a leadership role in your union?

As is likely the case with many colleges, growing union leadership comes from the people doing the work. Our college has been fortunate to have strong, dedicated faculty serving consistently in our union. Two such members – Leah Halper and Ken Wagman – were instrumental in both our leadership roles for our union. Both served as executive board presidents as well as various other roles, and both reached out to bring new faculty into the union’s important work.

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