Faculty, COC continue contract discussion

Teachers crowd the College of the Canyons board room with shirts and signs demanding a "fair contract now!" prior to a board meeting Wednesday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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As the two sides continue attempting to work out an agreement, College of the Canyons and members of the college’s faculty association participated in their third mediation meeting this week.

The mediation meetings between the two sides are confidential, but the faculty’s lead negotiator Garrett Hooper spoke about the process during the faculty association’s most recent informational picket sessions.

If there is no agreement reached by the conclusion of mediation, then the two sides will head to fact-finding, Hooper said earlier this month.

“What happens during fact-finding is representatives from the district and COCFA present their best case,” Hooper said. “Really, it’s used as an opportunity to try to convince an independent panel of arbitrators to agree with you,” meaning both sides get to make a case as to why they feel they should pay or be paid a certain amount.

“Then that independent panel of arbitrators makes a recommendation to our board of trustees, and the board of trustees can then accept that recommendation or deny it,” Hooper said as he explained the intricacies of nonbinding arbitration, which is how COC and COCFA negotiate their contract.

“The district prides itself as being fair and equitable so everybody gets the same percentage increases,” Hooper said. However, administrators only have to approve salary increases and health care when they receive raises.

“So, when the administrators were approved for raises at the (Jan. 16) meeting, they chose to put it all on salary,” Hooper said, “which ended up being a little over 4 percent raise on salary.”

Now, if the district were to offer a raise to part-time faculty then the same thing would happen, according to Hooper. “The group could apply the full 3.71 percent to their hourly rate,” but the same can’t be said for full-time faculty members.

“Full-time faculty negotiate total compensation so all the compensation items — salary, health care and any other financial issue that impacts us — must be paid out of the increases,” he said, adding there are a myriad of financial issues that affect the group.

“One of the things we’d like to do is increase the hourly rate we receive for overload, which is when teachers work above their contract, and summer or winter pay,” Hooper said. “To increase that — since the district wouldn’t do it — we’d have to pay for it out of the pot of money we receive from the raises.”

“So, when the district says, ‘We’re giving you 3.71 percent just like we gave the administrators,’ well sure, but it doesn’t go as far,” Hooper said, “because now we have to pay for an increase in our overload rate by taking it out of that pot of money.”

Faculty would also be responsible for paying department chair compensation and other costs, Hooper said. “As you can see — as you start to line up these financial issues — it reduces the amount that we can put to salary like the others were able to.”

Hooper said district partners tend to be collaborative, so he was hopeful a deal would get done prior to its Feb. 13 mediation meeting.

“But right now,” Hooper said, “they are fairly set at 3.71, which is what all groups have received.”

The college’s board of trustees can ultimately make a decision to ignore the arbitration panel, Hooper said, recognizing the board can also impose an offer that is equal to the lowest offer made at the table. “So, what that means for (faculty) is after the fact-finding process concludes, they can ignore a recommendation from the arbitrators that ruled in our favor and impose an offer of 2.71 percent, because that’s what the district opened with.”

This would be an imposition, but the district shouldn’t want to do that for a number of reasons, Hooper said.

“It’s going to create ill will,” the lead negotiator said. “As a mediator told me, nothing good comes out of the fact-finding process. It kills morale, destroys relationships and it’s not good for the health and welfare of the college.”

Hooper added the animosity would fester for months until the two sides meet at the negotiating table once again.

“We’re not going to let go. We want to make sure the district knows — that our community knows — that we have a fair cause and case to make for this fair contract,” Hooper said. “We don’t think anything we’re asking for is unreasonable. We just want the district to honor the hard work of our faculty.”

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