Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Governing Board Rules Out Layoffs of College Faculty

*By Nickolas Furr and Enrique Raymundo

Following a tense four-and-a-half hour closed session, the Southwestern College Governing Board announced it would not send March 15 layoff notices to the college faculty. This elicited subdued reactions of relief from the faculty present at 11 p.m. and anger from Bruce MacNintch, the head of SWC’s classified employee union.

The decision to not send the notices came just 11 days before the district’s March 15 deadline required by the state to lay off faculty.

Corina Soto / Photo: Kristina Saunders

Board President Humberto Peraza read a statement into the record explaining why the board had chosen to remain in negotiations with the faculty union – the Southwestern College Educators’ Association (SCEA) – instead of initiating layoffs to help solve the campus budget crisis.

“The damage layoffs would cause the community would far outweigh any assistance it would provide to balancing the budget,” Peraza said.

MacNintch, president of the SWC chapter of the California State Employees’ Association (CSEA), reacted angrily to the decision.

“We negotiated, being told layoffs would occur if we didn’t agree to this deal, and now they won’t happen anyway,” MacNintch said.

CSEA had accepted a 5 percent pay cut under the threat of district layoffs.

SWC administration has been locked in budget negotiations with the three main constituency groups – SCEA, CSEA and the Southwestern Community College District Administrators’ Association (SCCDAA) – for several months. At the February board meeting Albert Roman, SWC’s vice president of human resources, outlined the process by which layoffs could take place.

Though the SCEA accepted a 5 percent pay cut last spring, union leaders refused to accept another cut, claiming the administration was penalizing employees rather than seeking budget cutting measures that would not directly affect education.

As an example, English professor Andrew Rempt said he questioned the amount of funds being spent on consultants, claiming “every time I open an email, there’s news of a new one.”

“It bothers me because I’m currently taking a 5 percent pay cut in the name of saving programs and jobs,” he said. “But the college spent $425,000 on consultants for master plans.”

CSEA and SCCDAA recently agreed to another two years of a 5 percent pay reduction as a means of narrowing the budget deficit and protecting non-teaching jobs. This cut is, essentially, an extension of the one-year 5 percent pay cut of last year.

If an agreement between SCEA and the college administration is not reached, the faculty’s salaries and jobs might remain intact. But the board has already ratified the deals with classified employees and administrators, and those pay cuts will remain in place, according to Roman.

MacNintch, who negotiated for CSEA to take the cut in lieu of layoffs, reacted strongly to the board’s decision.

“Now I have to go back to my constituency and tell them the last four months of negotiations are bullshit,” he said.

CSEA negotiator Silvia Lugo challenged the board and administration to prove they worked out a reliable, trustworthy deal.

“If I find out that you took us into negotiations in bad faith and with bad numbers, mark my words, we will use every power of the union to go after the vice presidents and the board,” Lugo said.

The meeting follows Friday’s surprise resignation of recently-elected trustee William Stewart, who cited difficulty getting accurate college financial information that was not “artificially inflated.” He said that accurate numbers should be used to negotiate with college employees.

“It is my opinion that Southwestern has a precious resource in its employees, not dangerous adversaries,” he wrote in his letter of resignation.

References to Stewart’s resignation were minimal, instead focusing on the possibility of layoffs and the college’s future. Before adjourning to the closed-door session, the board heard about 30 minutes of public input from professors and administrators union president Silvia Cornejo-Darcy, who commended the board for working hard for two years to “eliminate corruption” from the campus.

“I believe that is true” she said, “and I just want you to know that your management team is working hard to accomplish that, too.”

Marnie Weigel, an English adjunct, said that not knowing the actual budget numbers caused a multitude of problems, such as underfunding academic programs and being out of compliance with state staffing laws. California Education Code calls for 75 percent of a community college’s classes to be taught by full-time professors.

Southwestern College has operated for a number of years under a waiver that allows the college to hire fewer professors.

“We are already grossly out of order,” she said. “Our current numbers are around 75 to 25, but they’re in the wrong direction. It’s a logical fallacy to believe we will not be held accountable, believing that others are doing it so we can, too.”

Weigel said that all constituencies should be involved in decision-making.

“What we need in this collective community is inclusion, not exclusion,” she said.

Lugo, who is also SWC performing arts coordinator, was one of five employees wrongfully fired by a previous administration and reinstated by the succeeding one. She said she wanted to see March 15 pass with no pink slips sent out.

“I don’t want to see any faculty person lose their job,” she told the board. “I don’t want to see any classified employee lose their job. You promised us that when you said that you would keep everybody on the boat.”
She said she had a better understanding of that than most.

“I know what it feels like to be laid off based on lies,” she said. “And I’m still suffering from that episode and I don’t want to see it happen to anybody else.”

Following the board’s announcement, the faculty union called off a planned picket and possible job actions. Faculty members expressed relief that the threat of layoffs is gone, but many said that they thought Stewart’s resignation demonstrated that the district was not able or not willing to share accurate budget forecasts.
Peraza said the board’s action was a show of good faith and he called on the faculty union to reciprocate. Negotiations have resumed.

Contributions by Thomas Baker, Albert Fulcher, David McVicker, Kristina Saunders, and Kasey Thomas.

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