Exactly two years ago, the colleges of the South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) were heading into spring break, uncertain whether faculty and students would be returning to on-campus instruction after the break due to the surging novel coronavirus. It had just been declared a pandemic by the WHO, but the district was still debating the pros and cons of converting to fully online instruction. The SOCCCD Faculty Association, however, believed faculty and students would not be returning and had already begun work on the first in a series of five MOUs aimed at protecting the health, safety, livelihoods, and satisfactory working conditions of our members. In the two years since, the FA, like all faculty unions across the state, has had to work hard to ensure that the concerns and needs of faculty were addressed. As a wall-to-wall unit representing both full- and part-time faculty, this has been particularly difficult, but it has also increased the spotlight on the disparities between full- and part-time faculty, enabling us to negotiate a far better contract for our part-time members.
The first two MOUs, signed in March and April of 2020, were aimed at allowing faculty the most latitude in converting to the online methodologies of their choice. While the district has always had a strong online program, many of the faculty had never taught in this manner and were suddenly thrust into a new instructional reality. During this phase, the FA was also able to suspend other faculty obligations, including evaluations and college service. Most importantly, we were able to largely preserve part-time employment for the remainder of that semester and into summer, including for librarians and others whose hours might have been cut otherwise, and won significant concessions regarding the cancellation of low-enrolled classes.
The third and fourth MOUs were much more comprehensive and primarily addressed health and safety concerns related to working from home and to the possible return to on-campus instruction. We ensured that equipment needed to continue instruction, including computers and ergonomic chairs, was made available to all faculty. We established a process for continuing to work remotely due to illness or quarantine, extended the mandated 80 hours of additional sick leave beyond the expiration date, and established safety protocols related to maximum occupancy for classrooms, cleaning and disinfecting requirements, ventilation and air filtration upgrades, provision of PPE, and availability of vaccines, among other things. A final MOU concerned the impacts and effects of the districtwide vaccine mandate.
Although it seems that we may now be emerging from this pandemic, the impact on our membership continues as we all struggle with the new realities of living with COVID-19.
For example, it was just announced by the chancellor that the mask mandate for students will be lifted on April 11, two weeks after the return from spring break and the possible case spike from the inevitable congregations of students. SOCCCD FA, like all unions, will need to remain vigilant and prepared to return to the negotiating table to protect our membership as conditions change.