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July 4, 2020

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Clark College Trustees vote to give interim president authority to act on faculty strike

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

The Clark College Board of Trustees on Monday gave its interim president the authority to ask a Clark County Superior Court judge to intervene in its faculty union’s proposed strike.

The Association for Higher Education voted unanimously on Saturday to allow its executive committee to call a strike at any time. The union represents about 400 full-time and part-time faculty, more than 300 of whom were at the weekend meeting.

But whether faculty actually do walk out, and whether Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill does file for an injunction, remains to be seen.

“Even if there is a work stoppage, that’s no guarantee there would be an injunction,” college spokeswoman Kelly Love said Monday.

Clark College faculty and the union have been in bargaining over salaries for more than a year. College faculty say they want their salaries more on par with their peers in the public school system, and they are advocating for adjunct pay tied more closely with full-time professorships. College officials have said its latest two-year, $1.3 million offer is all it can sustain.

State law prohibits college faculty from striking, and gives college trustees or their representatives the right to request a judicial order against the faculty union.

But, as 2018’s widespread teacher strikes showed, the threat of an injunction didn’t stop teachers from hitting the picket lines. Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier issued an injunction against the Battle Ground Education Association in September of that year, ordering teachers back to work. Still, teachers voted to defy the order — though the two sides reached an agreement before that occurred.

Union President Suzanne Southerland criticized the board for its vote Monday, saying it indicates the board doesn’t “have any interest in ensuring we can keep the best faculty for our students.”

“They are more interested in authorizing scare tactics to intimidate us into accepting less than we’re worth,” Southerland said.

College strikes are rare. If Association for Higher Education leaders call a strike, it will be the first time community college teachers in Southwest Washington have done so. Bellingham Technical College faculty went on strike in 2013, and that same college’s support staff went on strike in 2017.

College faculty say a strike won’t be called until after winter break, which starts Friday. Classes start for the winter quarter on Jan. 6. Clark College has another mediated bargaining session scheduled for Dec. 27.

In an email to the Clark College community Monday night, Fowler-Hill wrote that the college was is “deeply concerned about the possibility of a strike and its detrimental impacts on students and employees,” but said she’s hopeful that the two sides will reach a settlement on Dec. 27.

“We believe our proposal is fair and reasonable in light of the college’s financial limitations,” she said. “We remain hopeful we will find a mutually agreed upon solution.”

Katie Gillespie: 360-735-4517; katie.gillespie@columbian.com; twitter.com/newsladykatie

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