John L. Braese
ONTARIO – Teachers at Treasure Valley Community College are scheduled to meet Thursday to plan for a strike as negotiations with college administrators so far have yielded no agreement on major pay issues.
A strike would be the first at any community college in Oregon.
Representatives of the college administration and the Treasure Valley Education Association, the teachers’ union, met for talks with a mediator last Friday and Saturday and another round is scheduled in two weeks.
The clock is ticking because the college has declared an impasse. A 30-day “cooling off” period that started last Friday could end with the college imposing new pay conditions. Such a move would by law free the faculty to strike.
“If the 30 days are reached with no agreement, we would look at moving in a different direction,” said Dana Young, college president.
That move may make history, according to Gerry Hampshire, union president.
“We will be meeting this Thursday and discussing plans for a possible strike,” Hampshire said. “If it happens, we would be the first community college in Oregon to strike.”
Young said after talks this weekend, the two sides agreed on 10 of the 20 items on the table. Two issues were partially settled with eight others still separating the two sides.
One highly debated item is class size.
With enrollment continuing to decline, college officials say they need to cut costs and payroll is among the biggest expenses.
According to Young, the college is requesting that teachers have 20 faces in the classroom to get full pay while the union is asking the number to remain at 13.
“With 20 students in the class, we about break even financially for the college,” said Young. “With only 13 students, we are not in a good financial place.”
Young said neither side has discussed a compromise number.
“Twenty students in a classroom would be a devastating impact on the college,” said Dennis Gill, bargaining chairman for the teachers. “Kids come to community colleges because of smaller class size and the student-to-faculty ratio. We are concerned students will not have the opportunities to learn with large classes.”
Gill said many of the current classes already have sizes smaller than 20 students, especially in the upper division classes.
As with labor negotiations, salaries are another area where the two sides have not seen eye to eye.
The union is asking for a 4.5 percent increase annually for those teachers not yet at the top of the salary scale. For those making $77,000 to $97,000, the union is requesting a 2.5 percent raise annually.
The college is offering a 2.5 percent increase for teachers not at the top of the pay scale and is offering no raise for teachers at the top.
“We don’t want our members going backwards,” Gill said. “With the cost of living rising, the college is asking for no raises for many of our teachers for the next two years.”
According to Gill, half of the faculty at the college would top out their pay range in the next two years and get no raises under the administration’s proposal.
Another issue is insurance. Currently, the college contributes approximately $1,880 a month towards teacher’s insurance.
The union is asking the rate to remain at that amount while the college is proposing to cut it to $1,600 per month.
“We want to be more in line with what other colleges around the state are paying towards insurance,” said Young.
For other staff at the college, the amount is currently $1,400 monthly.
“We fully understand insurance rates are climbing, but we want to ensure our staff are adequately covered,” said Gill.
The college is also requesting staff teaching at the Caldwell location be left out of the contract.
“Initially, instructors in Caldwell were not part of the contract,” Young said. “We want that to return back to that way. We don’t receive any Oregon money for instructors in Caldwell and it is completely run on tuition only.”
The union strongly disagrees.
“When Caldwell opened, it was clear it could not operate separately from Ontario,” Gill said. “We are not willing to negotiate out our Caldwell staff.”
The two sides return to the table Jan. 18 and 19.
For now, Gill and Hampshire are working on returning to the table and attempting to hash out the differences with the college.
“We are still willing to sit down and be engaged,” said Gill. “Hopefully, they are.”