By Josh Kelety | Campus News Editor
On Tuesday, February 11, after months of haggling, negotiating teams from both the Seattle Community College District (SCCD) and the local branch of the American Teachers Federation (AFT) established a tentative agreement to raise salaries for both full-time and part-time faculty by 2%. The raises, which would apply to faculty at all four district campuses, would go into effect retroactively, meaning back-pay from fall 2013 for full-time faculty and from the beginning of the current quarter for part-time faculty.
Both sides have been negotiating since October of last year, making this most recent and final meeting the sixth in a drawn-out process of give-and-take between AFT and the District.
AFT Seattle votes (photo by Josh Kelety)
The allocation, amounting to roughly $2.2 million, was authorized by the WA State Legislature as a way to compensate for austerity measures implemented on public college expenditures shortly after the 2008 financial crisis. With no raise in five years and the steady rise of inflation constantly reducing the purchasing power of 2008-era salaries, community college employees in Seattle and across the state have been feeling the squeeze for years.
“This was a way for us to get something that we’ve lost back,” said Tracy Furutani, a science instructor at North Seattle Community College and a member of the AFT negotiating team. The point of contention originated from the disbursement of these funds, specifically those directed to Seattle faculty. SCCD administrators felt that full-time teachers should receive the entirety of the funds. AFT took the position that an across the board pay bump for all faculty would be appropriate.
With a part-time to full-time faculty ratio of 3-1 (according to Furutani), SCCD’s teaching staff base primarily consists of part-timers. Part-time faculty are also paid considerably less, though specific salaries vary by individual and by how many programs they are allowed to teach in. In addition, a survey sent out by AFT showed that among the respondents, a majority supported an increase across the board. The lack of a state mandated Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to faculty salary also factored into AFT’s position. A COLA hasn’t been applied since 2008, according to Charles Sims, Chief Human Resources Officer for the SCCD and a key negotiator for the District during the bargaining.
“We’re going backwards in the sense that our earning power is actually paying for less, and most people are experiencing that,” said Tracy Lai, a humanities professor at Seattle Central Community College and an AFT member.
On the other hand, full-time faculty carry a larger swath of responsibilities than their part-time counterparts. They must not only teach more classes but hold office hours for students and serve on hiring committees and the like for the college. In addition, the SCCD current holds the rank of having the highest paid part-time faculty among state community colleges, according to Sims. With regard to full-time faculty, on the other hand, we are only 12th.
“Our primary goal is about fairness, it is about competitiveness,” said Sims. “They [full-time faculty] are doing professional obligations outside of the classroom. They are doing curriculum development, they are on hiring committees, they are on search committees. Our part-time faculty do not have those obligations.”
To make things more complicated, exempt employees (staff whose pay is salary based) who have faced similar salary freezes and no COLA will potentially receive pay increases from the same pool of funds. According to Sims, this employee demographic is in the process of forming its own AFT-sanctioned union which will bargain for a share of the state allocated funds. He added that non-union administrators will also receive a pay bump, the amount being dependent on the outcome of the aforementioned union and the eventual bargaining outcome.
In addition, according to Furutani, classified employees (staff paid on an hourly wage and who are eligible for overtime), received not just a salary freeze but a 3% cut to their pay roughly two years ago. The recent funding authorization will restore that 3%, further trimming the allocation for exempt employees.
Despite the initial difference in positions, the last negotiating round led to a tentative agreement on a 2% across-the-board hike, a compromise between the AFT’s demand for higher raises and the District’s full-time-only stance. The AFT had been preparing for more drastic measures if no agreement could be reached, such as picketing or other forms of civil disobedience. Given the across the board hike, no such action is planned.
“Both negotiating teams came to the table and bargained in good faith to reach an acceptable agreement on across-the-board salary-increases for the District’s full- and part-time faculty,” said Sims in an official statement after the agreement was announced.
But while the allocation replaces funds that were retracted during the past half-decade, it does not address inflation or implement any kind of COLA. A Seattle Times article reported that in terms of costs of living, Seattle ranks 16 percentage points above the national average, with inflation driving those figures higher every year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seattle prices inflated by a little more than 7% from 2008-2012, and another 1.3% last year.
“There are still some larger equity issues out there, which this pot of money is not large enough to address,” said Furutani.
The tentative agreement will go to the AFT Seattle Executive Board, which will review the final language before a local branch wide vote at the end of the quarter.
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This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.