Welcome to the Spring 2020 semester! I hope everyone had a relaxing holiday season and that the new year is off to a wonderful start for all of you. In addition to the usual feelings of anticipation that come with beginning a new semester, the NCCFT Executive Committee is looking forward to engaging further the many changes that are coming to Nassau Community College. Some of these changes are administrative. We’ve hired new deans and a new Vice President of Finance; a search is underway for both a Director of Marketing and Communications and a Vice President of Institutional Advancement; and, as we have just learned, Dr. Valerie Collins will be stepping down as our Acting Vice President of Academic Affairs effective June 20th, which means we will be searching for someone to fill that position as well.
These changes in administrative personnel will obviously impact the discussions that we began in the fall about Dual Enrollment and Guided Pathways; and they will also help shape the rollout of President Williams’ overall vision for the college, which we are looking forward to learning more about. Precisely because so much change is in our future, however, I also want us to be mindful of an aspect of our lives here at NCC that all too often goes unremarked or gets framed in adversarial terms that end up being more divisive than helpful: the fact that we are a unionized campus, with four different labor unions, whose members need to be able to work collaboratively, with each other and with the management confidential administrators.
The four campus unions are the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers (NCCFT—of course!), the Adjunct Faculty Association (AFA), the Nassau Community College Administrators Association (NCCAA), and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). The first three of these unions are campus-specific locals, negotiating contracts that apply only to NCC employees. The college’s CSEA employees, on the other hand, are members of Nassau County CSEA, which negotiates for its members county-wide, including those terms and conditions that apply specifically to work at the college. Currently, the AFA, NCCAA, and CSEA are working without a contract, while we are a little less than halfway through the final year of our collective bargaining agreement. These circumstances are ripe with tension and anxiety, which is what I would like to address in this post. [Editor’s note: While all three of our fellow unions were working without a contract when this post was originally written, the Nassau County Legislature signed off on the AFA contract on December 16th of last year.]
Having served on four NCCFT bargaining committees during the twelve years of my service, having chaired the NCCFT Crisis Committee during contract negotiations when I was not a member of the Executive Committee, I am well-acquainted with this tension and anxiety—as are the other NCCFT officers whom you elected and the officers in each of our three fellow unions. We all feel very acutely not only the responsibility with which our members entrusted us when they elected us, but also the deeply troubling uncertainty of what it means to work without a contract. More to the point, we are also very conscious of the discipline required for a union membership to continue business-as-usual under an expired contract when negotiations on a new contract seem to be producing no results. Until recently, the leadership groups of the other three campus unions chose not to make their frustrations at working without a contract public. Why they have remained silent until now is their business. Make no mistake, though, they wanted to maintain this discipline.
Now that all three of those unions have gone public, however—most recently in November, when the NCCAA made a public statement expressing their frustrations at a Board of Trustees meeting—we have decided it is appropriate for the NCCFT to voice our support for their efforts. We take no position—it is not our place to take a position— on any particular labor issue(s) they might be in the process of negotiating. Rather, we think it is important to show our support for their desire to reach a just and fair successor agreement with their negotiating partners. That’s why we introduced a resolution in the Academic Senate, asking for a vote expressing that sentiment.
We chose to do this through the Academic Senate because the Senate is the campus forum, the only campus forum, where all four unions come together, along with the student senators, to consider—as it says in the NCCFT contract, where the Senate is enshrined in Section 20—“general educational goals and policies as well as other matters of concern to the College community.” To put that a little differently, for the Senate to be able to do its job effectively, all constituencies represented in the Senate need to feel that their positions are secure. Even though contract negotiations are beyond its purview, in other words, the Senate nonetheless has, as a body, a legitimate interest in the timely resolution of those negotiations. This was not always the case, or at least not to the degree it is now. Prior to the current NCCFT collective bargaining agreement, neither the CSEA nor the AFA had any seats in the Senate; and while the administration was represented, that representation did not exist, as it does now, within the context of the NCCAA.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering how this change came about.
At the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, while we were negotiating our current contract,we were also in the middle of trying to resolve our Middle States probationary crisis. Not only, you’ll recall, did we fail seven out of the fourteen Middle States standards, but the process of coming into compliance was complicated by a great deal of political maneuvering. In particular, our inability to agree on how to address Standard 4, Leadership and Governance, was proving to be the major obstacle to removing our probationary status. As the deadline set by Middle States approached, consultations—with Middle States, with the SUNY Chancellor’s Office, with the SUNY Board of Trustees, with the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties of Nassau County, and with NYSUT—persuaded the leadership of the NCCFT that the risk of being given a “show cause” order, which would have brought us one step closer to losing our accreditation, was too great. As a result, the elected faculty leadership—the president of the NCCFT, the Chair of Chairs, and the Chair of the Academic Senate (who was, by then, the only remaining member of the Senate’s Executive Committee)—worked throughout the summer of 2017 to negotiate, as best we could, a proposal for a governance system that would address Middle States’ concerns. The results, we believed, were an improvement over our old system in significant ways, one of them being the inclusion of the CSEA and the AFA as members of the Senate.
Unfortunately, we were not able to reach agreement with the administration with respect to the Academic Senate bylaws and both sides agreed to resolve the issue through arbitration. (We explained the logic of this decision in this blog post.) That this was the right decision was borne out when both Deborah Meckel, from the SUNY Chancellor’s Office, and Dr. Robert Clark, who chaired our Middle States Review Committee, made unambiguous public statements that any other course of action would have been reason enough for Middle States to issue us a show cause order.
That there are some members of the college community who continue to disagree with that decision was made clear at the Senate meeting where I introduced the NCCFT resolution in support of the other three campus unions. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, but it is a shame that it did not pass unanimously. That would have been a powerful message to our fellow unions, to the college community at large, and to the management confidential administrators, of our solidarity, our resolve, and our commitment to the indispensable, different, and yet also interrelated work each campus union does to ensure the success of our students.
The NCCFT contract expires at the end of this academic year. As we begin to prepare for our negotiations, let’s hope that the college community supports us with the unanimous commitment and resolve I continue to believe our resolution deserved.