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Clark College faculty union OKs contract in 257-9 vote

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
3 Photos
Clark College professor Michelle Roth, in plaid, hugs a colleague after the result of the union vote at Gaiser Hall on Wednesday. The union voted to ratify its new contract 257-9, drawing a three-day teacher strike to a close.
Clark College professor Michelle Roth, in plaid, hugs a colleague after the result of the union vote at Gaiser Hall on Wednesday. The union voted to ratify its new contract 257-9, drawing a three-day teacher strike to a close. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark College’s faculty union voted to ratify its contract Wednesday afternoon, drawing 15 months of bargaining and a three-day strike to a close.

The Association for Higher Education, which represents the college’s approximately 400 full- and part-time faculty, voted 257 to 9 in favor of the contract that had been tentatively approved the night before with the Clark College Board of Trustees

Classes will resume Thursday, Clark College spokeswoman Kelly Love reported.

The new contract includes wage increases for full-time faculty, who will see their annual salary bumped by about $10,000 — a little more or less, depending on how long they’ve been employed at the college. The contract also establishes a new payment model for part-time teachers, who for the first time will see their salaries and future increases tied to that of their full-time counterparts.

The results of the vote were announced to thunderous applause at Gaiser Hall. Teachers crowded into the vacant student center while the first snow of the season fell in flurries outside.

8 Photos
Members of the Clark College Association for Higher Education react with a standing ovation after the union vote was announced at Gaiser Hall on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 15, 2020. The contract was ratified 257-9. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
Clark College Union Ratifies Contract Photo Gallery

“This is a tremendous achievement. This is a tremendous victory for our students and for our college. These pay raises will make a difference in our lives,” said Suzanne Southerland, the union president and a professor in the college’s communications department.

“It’s our strength that closed this college down — and got us a fair contract.”

Early Monday morning, faculty went on strike for the first time in Clark College’s 87-year history. They gathered in picket lines on campus with chants of “Fair contract now,” calling on college leaders to increase wages and reflect the higher pay at Clark County’s K-12 school districts.     

At the heart of the negotiations were salaries for part-time instructors.

Part-time staff could be paid “literally half as much as a full-timer” for a comparable load, Southerland told The Columbian. Part-time faculty were being paid between $2,925 and $3,037 for each five-credit, 12-week lecture course. Full-time faculty had made anywhere between $53,416 to $76,339 per academic year.

Union leaders had pushed for pay parity for part-time faculty. The college had countered with a proposal to incrementally raise part-time faculty salaries over the next five years, eventually bringing them up to 72 percent of a full-time professor’s salary.

Ultimately, the contract ratified Wednesday followed the college’s proposal, but on an accelerated timeline. Effective retroactively to July 2019, part-time adjunct professors will be paid at a rate equivalent to 65 percent of what a starting full-time professor makes under the new contract. That proportion will increase each year, to 72 percent by July 2022.

Additionally, all faculty received a 1 percent wage increase, effective retroactively to July 2018. Full-time staff dropped their lowest pay step, bumping entry-level employees up a level, and each step received another 9 percent wage increase, effective retroactively to July 2019. The new salary range for full-time Clark College professors now starts at $62,049 and tops out at $87,403 for the 2019-20 academic year.

The ultimate goal in the coming years, Southerland said, is to bring adjunct faculty up to approximately 85 percent of what a full-time professor makes for an equal course load.

“The national trend is to exploit part-timers, and we’re trying to turn that around,” Southerland said. “We’re going to keep on going until we get to the mid-80s. I think that’s a reasonable goal.”

The college does not plan to add days of class to the end of winter term, Love said. Because the cancellation lasted for fewer than five days, individual teachers will work with their deans to condense their curriculum and accommodate the three missed days of classes.

“Students need to be back in, they want to be back in,” Love added. She emphasized that the college’s 9,186 enrolled students were not required to have completed any coursework over the duration of the strike, and that their grades would not be impacted.

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