The board of Treasure Valley Community College at a recent meeting. (The Enterprise/file photo)
That signatures have dried on a new contract at Treasure Valley Community College is good news for the community. But the long slog to labor peace has disturbed the community in ways that can’t be underestimated. College officials have a lot of work to do, and the public is owed some explanations.
The deal inked last week settled more than a year of arguing between TVCC administrators and the union representing 40 instructors. The college projects that the deal pushes down some costs while the union held firm on other items. Any bargaining is a give-and-get proposition. The community won’t know for a year or more how the contract in reality affects students.
One troubling aspect about all this is how the union and administrators considered their talks some private deal. The college campus and the community were kept on edge in recent weeks. Those inside the bargaining room would only offer generalities – “progress is being made.” At the same time, though, there was talk of the college simply imposing the contract and also talk of a union strike.
When the two sides finally did reach a deal, they kept mum about it. They wouldn’t whisper a word to the public – to the people who will pay the bill for the deal. College and union officials said that’s because the two sides agreed – behind closed doors – to keep the details of the contract away from the public for a few days. In fact, the public wasn’t trusted with the details until the contract was a signed and done deal.
College officials insist they had to keep the document secret because of its private deal with the union. Union officials at one point said they needed privacy so instructors could vote on a proposed deal safe from “outside influence.” But no one has explained why it would have been a bad thing to share the deal with those who write the checks to pay for it. Taxpayers, in essence, were told to sit out in the hallway and wait until others thought it time to share.
The public confidence in the college has been shaken by these events. Beside the contract issue, the college laid off six instructors in a clumsy manner. College officials cited the legal basis for acting, and assured the community that cutting instructors was a good thing for the financial health of the college. Many still wonder how that is.
Meantime, the union itself seems to have issues. It’s on its third president in recent weeks and reports indicate instructors were deeply split about the new contract. Instructors apparently have their own healing to do, which is needed for the college to right itself.
And while nerves were still raw, the college rolled out the news it wanted to hike students’ cost of going to Treasure Valley Community College. This, at a time enrollment is still dropping.
College leaders, including the board of directors and President Dana Young’s team, owe students, parents and the community clear explanations. They need to share how all of these steps serve local students and provide more opportunities. This is no time for platitudes. The college can play a vital role, and it must, in the future of Malheur County. Leadership, though, has to demonstrate a clear-eyed view of that role, a view that warrants the continued support of those who believe in the college’s purpose. – LZ