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Clark College faculty seek pay increases

Union, school administrators are in contract talks

By , Columbian Education Reporter
4 Photos
Clark College faculty and supporters prepare to make their way across campus during a rally for higher wages Feb. 13, 2019.
Clark College faculty and supporters prepare to make their way across campus during a rally for higher wages Feb. 13, 2019. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark College’s faculty union marched through campus Wednesday to support its bargaining team, which remains locked in contract negotiations with college administrators.

A group of several dozen members of the Clark College Association for Higher Education marched from the center of campus to the college’s administrative offices. Union members were clad in the trademark red of educator unions and carried the now-familiar Washington Education Association signs reading “Fair contract now!”

“We feel that we haven’t been given respect or attention,” Kim Sullivan, Clark College Association for Higher Education president, said during a break from bargaining.

This is a significant year for bargaining for the Vancouver community college. Last year, the Legislature granted community and technical college unions the right to bargain for salary schedules using local dollars.

Retiring President Bob Knight and the board of trustees maintain the college does not have the money to provide the salary increases staff are asking for. They argue that declining enrollment means the college could see budget cuts as high as 5 percent in the coming year. On the first day of school for the fall quarter, 11,717 students were enrolled in Clark College, down from 12,055 the year prior.

College spokeswoman Hannah Erickson did not comment on the specifics of the negotiations, but said the college is working with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to advocate for 12 percent pay increases in all employee salaries over the next two biennia from the Legislature.

“We are aware that Clark College faculty desire higher pay,” Erickson said. “This is why the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges has made employee salaries the top priority in its legislative agenda.”

Union members point to higher salaries for K-12 teachers and at surrounding community colleges, calling on Clark College to embrace “pay equity” for its faculty. Full-time faculty at Clark College start at $53,281 and top out at $76,145, according to a salary schedule provided by the union.

John Mitchell, chair of the mathematics department, has worked at Clark College for 12 years. Mitchell said he’s drawn to the work of community colleges as a first-generation college student himself.

“I believe in education as a transformer of students’ lives, and I believe in the talent and heart of my colleagues,” he said.

But as a supervisor, maintaining employee morale can be a challenge when staff believe they can find better-paying jobs nearby.

“My hope is that administrators will see the potential long-term impact,” Mitchell said. “My larger concern is we can start seeing faculty, and have seen faculty, seek opportunities elsewhere.”

Willy Cushwa, a biology instructor, has worked at the college for 23 years. The full-time faculty member worries that Clark College has invested resources in administrators in lieu of its instructors, and said the college needs to do more to assure staff “about the financial priorities” of the college.

“I do love my job,” Cushwa said. “I don’t think that should be used as a rationale for a lack of commitment to salary.”

Another bargaining session is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Columbian Education Reporter