Contract Negotiations for College Employees
Welcome new and old students! As WCC students, you must be asking yourself regularly what the faculty union is talking about these days. You do know, don’t you, that WCC faculty are members of a labor union, the WCCFT, Westchester Community College Federation of Teachers? Some affectionately call it the FT (as in our logo above). Our union includes classroom teachers, counselors, librarians, and people who work in academic support. You’ve probably encountered quite a few of us already this semester, and you’ve probably wondered what we talk about when we’re standing around together.
Wonder no more.
Negotiations. Negotiations. Negotiations.
Contract negotiations that is. As a union of college employees (there’s another employees’ union called CSEA), we negotiate with the college administration (the president, vice-presidents, deans, and others) on matters of pay, benefits, and working conditions. The contract we are working under right now expired in 2011. Imagine buying a loaf of bread with a DO NOT BUY AFTER date of 2011? The contract that expired in 2011 is by now pretty stale. So the FT and college administration sit across a table from one another and talk and talk and talk.
And the hundreds of union members our negotiators represent but who aren’t at the table, when they’re not teaching or counseling you, helping you to pass math or write a research paper, are thinking and talking and sometimes worrying about the conversation at that table.
What precisely does your faculty think, talk, and worry about? Like nearly everyone else on the planet, money. What’s stale about that old contract are its numbers. While what it costs to live in this region has been actively changing since 2011, the pay scales of our members have been stuck in time. In this regard, our negotiators are especially sensitive to part-time faculty who don’t receive regular salaries but have their wages calculated on an hourly basis.
What else? In addition to their salaries FT members earn good benefits. If you see a group of faculty members huddled in a corner, chances are they’re talking about holding onto their good health benefits. If you were a fly on the wall inside the conference room where negotiations are taking place, your fly brain would probably be in a muddle about the unbelievably confusing details of health coverage.
Only some FT members receive health benefits. The majority of our member’s work on a part-time basis and receive no benefits. Part-timers, also known as adjuncts, are paid, as I said, an hourly wage. In fact, they are not paid for all the hours they work. If your English professor is an adjunct, she is paid for three hours per week, the time she spends in the classroom, but she is not paid to prepare for a class, to grade the essays you hand in, or even to have a conference with you after class time. In most cases, adjuncts don’t have offices, telephones, or computers. Not that any of this keeps adjuncts from doing excellent work. But members of the FT negotiating team want the college administration to improve how WCC compensates and treats its adjunct faculty.
When they’re not talking about negotiations, members of the faculty union usually begin conversations with each other by noting that these are interesting times at WCC. The college administration behind a brand new president has a vision for WCC’s future. The fact is that people on both sides of the negotiating table have ideas about the direction this college should take to provide students with the best possible education and training. The agendas both sides have for accomplishing this may not always be in sync, but the overall goal is.
This contract, when we get there, is going to play a big part in shaping the future of WCC. Common to all the conversations your faculty are having these days is a concern about making sure the other side is listening to our experience and expertise as front-line educators—because a vision for WCC’s future that highly values the people whose every day work is to directly provide students with the best possible education and training is the only vision worth talking about.