By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

ONTARIO – The Oregon Employment Relations Board is ordering Treasure Valley Community College to pay 13 employees a 2.5 percent cost-of-living back to last July, a perk college officials claimed they didn’t have to pay.

The employees will also get 9 percent interest on the back pay, the state board ordered.

The board also ordered the college to stop violating Oregon law.

The order came as college officials and the faculty union continued negotiating a new pay deal. Mediating sessions last week didn’t end the impasse and another session is scheduled for Feb. 5 and 6.

The Treasure Valley Education Association, representing college faculty, filed an unfair labor practices complaint in November. The claim said the college wrongly withheld the pay raises when the last labor contract expired in June.

“The TVEA is happy that the ruling went in our favor,” union president Gerry Hampshire said in a written statement. “We never doubted that it would not. It is certainly unfortunate that the college administration feels that it needs to stoop to violating law to cover up their mismanagement and drastic enrollment declines.”

The union argued in its claim that the college was obligated to award the cost-of-living raise to employees reaching the maximum pay under the employee’s grade.

The current labor contract ended June 30, 2017.

“Our bargaining team repeatedly warned the two college attorneys that their actions would result in an unfair labor practice. They chose not to heed those warnings,” Hampshire said.

The decision affects 13 employees who have reached the maximum salary step on the scale.

“The college will not file an appeal of the Employment Relations Board decision,” President Dana Young said in response to written questions from the Enterprise.

“The college will comply with the ERB decision and will pay back the COLA for September through December within sixty days as required by the decision,” Young wrote.

According to the college, the affected faculty have been shorted four months of COLA payments. The amount due, including the 9 percent interest, is $10,925.

With the college already facing cuts, Young was questioned where the institution will find the money.

“This is an issue.” Young said. “The cost of the COLA over the fiscal year is $25,424 plus costs and benefits, making the total cost for the year approximately $33,000.  This impacts thirteen employees whose 2016-2017 salaries averaged $78,227.  The average increase per year is approximately $2,000 per each faculty member. The lowest base pay for those who no longer qualify for step increases is now $56,045 (associate’s degree).  The highest base pay is now $99,397 (doctorate degree). The College will continue to find ways to cut the current budget.”

Hampshire blamed the cuts on the college administration.

“So far, the College has spent somewhere around a quarter million dollars on bargaining, which has only resulted in upsetting students, the community and more mismanagement of money,” said Hampshire. “All because of the incompetence of the administration and the board in managing enrollment and other issues at the college.”

With the ruling behind both parties, talks will continue following last week’s sessions.

“There were some positives in the discussions last week, but no outcomes,” said Dennis Gill, a professor at the college and one of the union representatives.

Gill said the two sides still are apart on wages, insurance and workload.

He said college officials have not yet notified the faculty of an intent to impose a new contract, a step allowed by law when there is an impasse. The faculty could then accept the imposed labor conditions or strike.

Dana Young, college president, didn’t respond to an email for comment by deadline.

With the talks continuing between the college and the union, Gerry Hampshire, the faculty union president, is urging the public to be heard.

“The community needs to raise its voice and step in to save the TVCC from further mismanagement by the college administration and board,” Hampshire said. “Their voices need to be heard while there is still a college left in Malheur County.  Closing the TVCC would be devastating to the surrounding communities, businesses and especially students trying to further their educations.”

Have a news tip? Contact John L. Braese at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.