By John L. Braese
The Enterprise
ONTARIO – Even after six instructors learned they may be losing their jobs, a new round of negotiations between Treasure Valley Community College and teachers has been scheduled for Friday.
The retrenchment notices mailed out last week continue a long list of problems between the college and the Treasure Valley Education Association, the union representing teachers.
The two sides started talking in December 2016, months before the labor contract expired in July 2017.
As talks continued over the ensuing months without resolution, they turned to a state mediator to help broker a deal.
The first session was last December and such sessions continued off and on into last week.
Sitting in separate rooms, the two sides would discuss issues, relay their concerns to a mediator, who would then walk down the hallway and relay the message to the other side.
The staging rooms are informally referred to as “war rooms” and they will be back in action Friday.
“It doesn’t look promising, but one never knows,” said Gerry Hampshire, union president. “The retrenchment notices have put quite a dim view on faculty’s trust, forthrightness and intent of administration.”
The string of sessions isn’t uncommon, according to Dana Young, college president.
“There are colleges in Oregon that have been negotiating and mediating for two years,” Young said. “We will continue to meet with the union as long as they come to the table.”
Talks hit a rough patch when the union complained that the college illegally withheld cost-of-living increases for veteran teachers.
The union accused the college of unfair labor practices in a complaint to the state Employment Relations Board.
The board sided with instructors in January, ordering the college to pay the raises.
The following month, the college took steps to impose a new contract with its terms and without union approval. The college, though, hasn’t taken the last step needed to do so.
“It is one of the possibilities we have,” Young said. “We don’t aspire to do that.”
The faculty could accept such a new contract or it could strike. That hasn’t happened before at a community college in Oregon.
Although a number of small contract terms have been settled, the sticking points continue to be wages, insurance costs and class size.
Young said the college can’t afford to raise wages or insurance costs at this point.
“We are making cuts everywhere we can,” she said, citing the college’s need to save $494,000 this year to balance the budget. “If we cannot come up with the cuts, we will look at freezing the budget or, with board approval, dropping our fund balance down.”
Young noted the college has been running without a dean of instruction to save money.
Due to timing, Young said no cuts are planned in sports programs.
Union officials say the instruction budget -- money paid to teachers -- has come in under budget the last five years.
The union maintains that classes would be cut if administrators succeed in imposing new, larger class sizes on which to base faculty pay.
Young said that under such a structure, classes would continue, but teachers standing before smaller classes would be paid less.
“We have suggested instructors teaching smaller classes be paid different,” she said. “The classes will still be there.”
Both sides are working to gain support from the students and community.
The college has handed out literature to students while the union has fliers adorning vehicles around the campus.
The union represents 36 teaching faculty. Other employees at the college are not affected by the recent happenings.