Leaders tight-lipped on current union negotiations

The faculty union of South Puget Sound Community College renews its contract with the school every three years.

While the 2009 negotiations were quickly resolved, the current talks are ongoing at this time.

Past negotiations have included faculty benefits and compensation.

Several professors, including Union President Kevin Asman, declined to be interviewed for this article due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations.

There are two unions on campus: the faculty union, and the “classified” union for all other school employees.

Labor Management Committee (LMC) meetings and Union Management Communication Committee (UMCC) meetings are closed to students. The two unions renegotiate their contracts with the SPSCC Administrators on a regular basis for the benefit of their members.

Unions typically fight for things like cost-of-living increases for their members, and to generally protect the jobs and the rights of their members.

Some students were unaware of, or unwilling to talk about, union-management relationships.

Student Allen Gilchrist worked for North Thurston School District but said, “I’m probably the wrong guy to talk to.”

Student Emily Sternback has worked for some volunteer organizations in between her studies. “There’s not usually any conflicts, because everyone wants to be there,” she said.

Professor Paul Smith was involved in union negotiations at SPSCC for ten years, and gave his insight into the process.

“Negotiations really take a lot of twists and turns. If you go into negotiations, and you’ve got some kind of idea of what you think is going to happen, and you say ‘Well, we’re going to negotiate for higher wages, shorter work days and more operating budget…’ and what happens when you come out is a little bit surprising. It’s a give and take. It’s a compromise, and the only way that negotiations work is if the people that are involved compromise,” he said.

Smith recalled fondly his time spent handling contract negotiations, and said that the faculty and administrators get along well together.

“I think that the history of negotiations on campus here have been pretty good. I think it’s fair to say that both sides, the administration and the faculty, are going to do nothing to hurt this school”, said Smith.

The teachers renegotiate their contracts every three years. Smith said, “In the last contract cycle, the union chose not to negotiate. They respectfully declined. There’s certain things as far as union negotiations go, if one side asks, the other side is required to negotiate. One side could say ‘We’d like to negotiate salaries’ and the other side could say ‘We’d rather not.’ But depending on what the issue is, the side that says ‘We’d rather not’ has to.”

SPSCC Human Resource Consultant Lynn Dignan is not involved in contract negotiations, but she regularly attends UMCC meetings, which deal with issues of the “classified” union. The Committee’s function is strictly advisory and does not involve decision making or collective bargaining authority.

“Both unions have different mechanisms for increasing staff and management communication, to talk through issues. It’s just constructive time for them to talk and work out issues,” she said.

SPSCC managed to stay immune for a while from the economic collapse of 2008, but state budget cuts have started to take a toll. As with other state employees, the “classified” union recently had to take a three percent temporary salary reduction, as decreed by Governor Gregoire.

Both sides came together to try and remedy this. Dignan said communication between the union and management in this case involved “looking at ways of trying to help employees recover part of that, whether it was through overtime or other things.”