EDITORIAL: College labor talks shouldn’t forget the students

The new year starts off with rough waters in our community. Administrators and instructors at Treasure Valley Community College seem far from a new pay deal. Should negotiations continue to produce talk but no action, students and the community had better brace for serious disruption.

Here’s the deal. The contract between the college and 40 members in the Treasure Valley Education Association expired in June. Talks to craft a new deal have been underway off and on since last February.

Labor contracts dictate a lot about how any organization will function. The contracts, of course, set pay. That settles how much payroll is going to cost an organization. That affects how much an organization can charge for what it produces, whether its cars or refrigerators. Labor contracts also set out conditions – how much work is expected for that pay and how employers will see that workers aren’t abused or overworked.

No contract is possible when labor and management have far different ideas of what pay and working conditions should be. Now, Treasure Valley’s management has signaled it doesn’t expect any deal to be reached. The management last week set in motion steps to impose a contract next month, one that represents management’s views. The faculty union can accept it – or go on strike.

That legal gauntlet was tossed as more distressing news about the college emerged. As the Malheur Enterprise reported recently, enrollment at the college has gone down again. The college is 40 percent below its student count at its peak just seven years ago. Predictably, the college president has directed another round of budget cuts.

Against this backdrop, the two sides are scheduled for mediation this Friday and Saturday. A state mediator will try a little shuttle diplomacy to see about negotiating labor peace.

Those sessions open just as the union faculty and the college are supposed to give the state their final offers. The deadline is Friday evening, but that timing makes no sense even if dictated by the state. The two sides ought to get in those offers by Thursday at the latest. Otherwise, mediators are trying to get people to agree who have not yet put all their cards on the table.

Labor peace is vital, and it’s been missing at Treasure Valley. The faculty in the past has publicly expressed no confidence first in President Dana Young and then the college board. This tension is draining for everyone. Both sides are spending who knows how much money on attorneys to get through this process. Both sides are spending time, energy and probably goodwill by digging in.

The nearly 2,000 students who still see value in a Treasure Valley education, meantime, are left to sit on the bench, wondering their fate. The mediator ought to consider having a handful of them sit in on the talks, just as constant reminders of what’s really at stake.

Labor talks can turn into a competition. Who can hang on the longest? Who can be the toughest? The most shrewd? Said more bluntly, each side can ask of any proposal: What’s in it for me? Those kinds of games should be left for the Chukar basketball courts and ball fields. Instead, administrators and faculty need to address every issue before them with this: What’s best for the students?

The answers, of course, would be up for debate, but at the least that would focus the debate where it belongs – on the youth who count on both faculty and administrators to nurture them to success. – LZ