Never in Clark College’s 87-year history have faculty gone on strike. That changed Monday, as teachers took to the picket line before the sun rose.
The Association for Higher Education, which represents more than 400 part- and full-time faculty at the Vancouver community college, is on strike until a deal can be made with the college over salaries. Teachers arrived on campus at 7 a.m., where the Clark College Board of Trustees was meeting to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
Chants of “Fair contract now” rang out across the otherwise quiet campus; classes will remain canceled until a resolution is reached. The college also canceled interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill’s State of the College address, which was scheduled for Thursday; spokeswoman Kelly Love said all focus is on negotiations at this point.
Union President Suzanne Southerland accused the college and its governing body of being unreasonable over the last 15 months of negotiations.
“They’ve not only failed to negotiate a fair contract, they’ve failed to communicate to the greater community what their position is,” Southerland said.
Love, meanwhile, said the strike has created a “heaviness” on campus.
“This is something that no one wants, and we have shared responsibility to get to a resolution and bring our students back to class,” Love said.
The two sides remain at odds over part-time faculty salaries. The union is advocating for pay parity for part-time instructors. Under the college’s latest proposal, part-time faculty would make 72 percent of a full-time faculty’s salary for comparable class loads. The raises necessary to reach that percentage would be spread out over the next five years.
The union did not disclose its demands but said the five-year timeline proposed by the college is too long.
Comparing the two groups’ annual wages is difficult. Full-time faculty are paid through an annual contract based on a salary schedule, which ranges from $53,416 to $76,339 in an academic year. Faculty can earn more money for teaching additional courses or other obligations.
Part-time faculty, meanwhile, are paid between $2,925 and $3,037 for a five-credit, 12-week lecture course. Adjunct professors may be teaching only a single course in an academic year or nearly a full-time load. Further complicating the matter, full-time course loads vary by department.
“A lot of our part-time faculty are paid as little as half what a full-time faculty is paid” even if they’re teaching a load comparable to that of a full-time teacher, Southerland said.
Suzanne Smith is a former adjunct professor in Clark College’s medical billing program. She said she left the college for the private sector after describing an inconsistent environment and unreliable course load in any given semester. She joined the picket line to show solidarity with her former coworkers, she said.
“I felt like administration doesn’t listen, and I was tired by the tenuous nature of the job,” she said.
Yusufu Kamara is a full-time economics professor who said the college’s salaries are not fair given the cost of living in the region. Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver in November 2019 was $1,680; the statewide median is $1,473, according to Apartment List, a rental listing website.
“I’d rather be in class right now,” Kamara said. “I should be there preparing for that class right now.”
In addition to the parity proposal, Clark College’s latest offer includes a 1 percent retroactive raise for the 2018-2019 school year for all faculty, and a 5.75 percent raise for full-time faculty in the 2019-2020 school year. All faculty will also receive a state-funded cost-of-living allocation of 3.7 percent in 2018-2019 and 3.2 percent this school year.
Overall, the offer will cost the college an additional $4 million. The Clark College operating budget for the school year is $73.4 million, $32.6 million of which is allocated toward all full-time and part-time faculty salaries and benefits.
Bargaining will continue through the week until a deal is reached. The college has not indicated it will file an injunction to try to force faculty back into the classroom.
“We are doing everything we can to support our faculty within the college’s ability to be sustainable,” Love said. “We are highly motivated to get a resolution.”