Faculty at Treasure Valley Community College voting on new contract that could prevent strike

Administrators and union agents meet in February a bargaining session in an effort to strike a new pay deal at Treasure Valley Community College. (Malhuer Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – Faculty members at Treasure Valley Community College are voting on whether to ratify a new labor contract.

The draft agreement was distributed to faculty members last week after a final round of negotiations between the faculty union and college administrators.

Terms of the agreement, however, are being kept secret. That includes details on class sizes, pay raises, and health insurance.

Officials at Treasure Valley Community College said that contracts that come out of mediation could be withheld from the public. One official also cited as possible legal authority to withhold the document a state law intended to protect confidential informants.

The Treasure Valley Education Association, the faculty union, also wouldn’t provide the document. Dennis Gill, a college instructor and union president, said the secrecy was needed to guard against “outside influence” in the vote.

The two sides have been talking about a new contract for more than a year. The contract expired last July but the 40 faculty members in the union continued to receive pay and benefits under the expired terms, including pay raises. State mediators were brought in, and then administrators and instructors decided to negotiate without mediators or attorneys.

Dana Young, college president, has insisted that any new contract has to bring down labor costs. The college is already cutting spending because of enrollment declines now in the seventh straight year.

Young had warned the union that she would invoke a state law that allowed the college to simply impose a new contract. But the union then would have had the right to strike.

Young said the college needed a new contract in place by the start of spring term, which starts April 2, to get savings the rest of the current budget year. Young and Gill last Thursday signed a side agreement, delaying until this Thursday a 2.5 percent pay raise for some faculty. The union had filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state, accusing the college of illegally withholding the raise.

That side agreement said a new contract “is set to go before the TVCC Board of Education and the TVEA membership for ratification.”

The consideration of the proposed contract comes just days after college officials announced they were terminating six instructors and accepting the resignation of a seventh. They did so under a process called “retrenchment,” which provides for firing instructors otherwise protected by tenure. College officials said the layoffs would help cut costs in the new budget year, which starts July 1.