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March 30, 2023

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Clark College union authorizes strike vote

No agreement after ‘last, best and final offer’ from college

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Clark College’s faculty union will decide in December whether or not to go on strike.

It’s the latest wrench in yearlong negotiations between the Clark College Association for Higher Education, which represents full- and part-time faculty, and college administration.

The union is seeking higher salaries for its professors and instructors, particularly the part-time staff who make up the majority of Clark College’s teachers. The college has said it cannot offer the wage increases the union has asked for, citing declining enrollment and other budget challenges.

“We’ve done everything in our power, and they’ve refused to budge,” union president Suzanne Southerland said. “Our next step is to start a work stoppage.”

Clark College officials offered limited information on the ongoing negotiations, saying they can’t publicly discuss bargaining while in mediation.

“We think a successful settlement is best accomplished at the bargaining table,” said Kelly Love, spokeswoman for the college.

But Clark College Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill emailed college leadership last week with a bargaining update, writing repeatedly that the college has presented the faculty union with its “last, best and final offer.”

“Unfortunately, after diligent work and efforts, the parties were still unable to reach agreement,” Fowler-Hill wrote in the email, a copy of which was provided to The Columbian.

Clark College’s latest offer would give faculty a 1 percent salary increase for the 2018-2019 school year (faculty would be paid retroactively for that year) and a 4 percent salary increase in the 2019-2020 school year. Alternatively, the college has offered a 3 percent salary increase to full-time faculty in 2019-2020, and a 5 percent increase to part-time faculty in 2019-2020.

Those raises would be funded out of the college’s local funds. The college operating budget is $73.2 million.

In the 2017-2018 school year, full-time faculty at Clark College made an average of $63,970, according to a salary survey by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. That puts their salaries slightly ahead of the state average salary of $62,095.12. Part-time faculty, however, are paid $3,565.33 per five-credit lecture class, slightly below the state average of $3,680.98. Part-time faculty make up about two-thirds of the Clark College teaching workforce.

Those proposed raises would be implemented on top of budgeted 3.7 percent cost-of-living allocations for state employees in 2018-2019, and 3.2 percent cost-of-living allocations in 2019-2020.

Clark College has not applied the cost-of-living increases to employee salaries this year, however. Fowler-Hill said in her email that the union can “bargain how these dollars are allocated at the local level before any change is implemented.”

But Southerland disagreed, saying all it would take to release the cost-of-living allocation is a memorandum of understanding between the union and the college. The college, she said, has refused to sign such a document.

“If the college wants to build trust and show good faith, they would stop taking credit for these fully state-funded COLAs and sign off to have this funding released to faculty immediately instead of holding it hostage in an attempt to force us to take their substandard offer,” Southerland said in an email to college faculty.

The two sides have one more mediated session scheduled for Dec. 5– two days before the union is set to vote on whether to strike.

“It’s going to show that we’re united in our pursuit of a fair contract,” Southerland said.

Columbian Education Reporter