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Jan. 25, 2020

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Clark College faculty one step closer to possible strike

Union's unanimous vote allows leadership to call strike at any time

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

Clark College faculty are poised to strike if a contract is not reached between the union and college leadership.

The Association for Higher Education voted unanimously to allow its leadership to call a strike at any time. If faculty do go on strike, it will be the first time teachers at the Southwest Washington community college have done so.

“It just goes to show how important and what a big deal it is,” union president Suzanne Southerland said of the unanimous vote. “This is one of the most important things faculty at Clark College has done.”

Southerland said the strike will not be called during finals, which start Monday. Students will be on break starting Friday until winter term begins on Jan. 6.

The move will add pressure to already difficult negotiations between Clark College and its faculty union, which is an affiliate of the Washington Education Association. The two sides have been bargaining for more than a year, and they are now working with a state mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission.

Clark College’s latest offer included 1 percent retroactive raises for all faculty in the 2018-2019 school year, and 4 percent raises in the 2019-2020 school year.

A second, separate offer would give all faculty 1 percent raises in the 2018-2019 school year and 3 percent raises to full-time faculty in 2019-2020. Part-time faculty would receive a 5-percent salary increase.

Those raises would be in addition to state-funded cost-of-living allocations. This year’s increase is 3.2 percent.

The estimated total additional costs to the college for the proposed two-year contract is $1.3 million. Clark College’s operating budget is about $73.2 million.

Clark College has 363 part-time instructors and 188 full-time instructors.

In a Thursday email to staff and students, Clark College Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill said the offer “represents the limit of what we consider financially sustainable.”

“Unfortunately, while we believe our proposal is fair and reasonable in light of the College’s financial limitations, we have been unable to reach agreement,” Fowler-Hill wrote.

A 2018 change in state law allows faculty unions at community colleges to bargain over salaries, prompting a wave of collective bargaining across the state. Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said other colleges have already settled on significant pay raises.

He pointed to Highline College in Des Moines, where full-time faculty on average received a 9.1 percent salary increase and part-time adjuncts received 10 percent pay increases. At Bellevue College, he said, most faculty received a 6.2 percent salary increase this year.

“There’s a problem with Clark College’s reluctance to invest in their faculty,” Wood said. “Other colleges have stepped up and provided significant increases to their pay and there’s no reason Clark College cannot and should not do the same.”

Strikes at colleges are rare. Wood said faculty of Bellingham Technical College went on strike in 2013, and that same college’s support staff went on strike in 2017.

“This is us standing up and saying ‘Enough,'” Southerland said. “We need to take charge and say we’re going to make Clark a better institution.”

The college has a mediated bargaining session scheduled for Dec. 27. In a prepared statement, Fowler-Hill said college leadership are “willing to bargain in good faith.”

“We are all eager to reach an agreement and move forward,” she said.

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