Over the years the NCCFT has agreed to a contract in which everything we value sunsets, and, most egregiously, since 1982 the contract has contained a provision (section 36-5) which provides that the college can require us to pay the increase in healthcare premiums when we work under an expired contract. This provision has been a proverbial gun to our heads for decades. While it has never been invoked, the threat of it is, in large measure, why we have not negotiated a good contract in over a decade. Now we must overcome that threat to get to a fair (not perfect) contract.
NCCFT Proposals: We have put forward proposals based, in large measure, on what you told the negotiators-at-large, along with an economic proposal. We did broach the possibility of extending the contract, but the college rejected an extension. Additionally, we have given the college a “complete package.”
College Proposals: The college has proposed a two-year contract in which our chairs would be removed from the bargaining unit, no ½ year sabbaticals, base Academic Senate Executive Committee reassigned time on a set monetary value, pay 20% of healthcare premiums, a hard freeze in wages and steps in year one and then a 1% raise and no steps in year two. That offer is an annual pay cut of at least $7,700. We would already be in year 1 and would have to immediately begin negotiations. Another problem: section 36-5 would still be the primary impediment unless we can eliminate it from the contract.
To Mediate or Not?
Mediation is not necessarily a silver bullet. Why? It is not binding arbitration. Over the years the union has, on many occasions, gone to mediation, in 2008-09, in 2013-14, and in a number of other years.
Mediation cannot simply be declared and scheduled. It is a process and can take months to schedule and begin. First, we must declare an impasse by filing a petition with the Public Employees Relations Board (“PERB”). There might be fact gathering which will extend the process. The college has the right to respond, and then we wait for PERB to rule. The other route to mediation is the NCCFT and the College jointly agree to declare an impasse. However, even the latter can take months to commence because we must jointly agree to the mediator as well as schedule mediation.
Of course, we have not ruled out mediation, and are, in fact, prepared to file, but at this point we still believe the parties can reach a fair settlement.
Where are We?
We have made a great deal of progress on what I refer to as “non-economic” issues, but the economics issues (wages and health insurance) remain unresolved. However, we are beginning to make some progress. At this point, you will understand that I cannot go into details. However, we are talking at the “table” (as we did this week on March 13th) and our lawyer speaks to the college’s lawyer in between formal talks. We are also communicating the importance of a fair contract to the trustees and the county, and, we believe, there are now some sympathetic ears. Much is happening behind the scenes. We do have allies at the county level; we have cultivated our NYSUT brethren, and other county union leaders. Your letters, rallying, and raising your voices about the importance of NCC to the community, have been critical to beginning to turn the page. All this will assist us to get a fair contract. The sticking point remains wages, steps, and health insurance. While we are beginning to see signs of movement on these, we need to keep the pressure on.
The Executive Committee has communicated the problems and status of the negotiations to the Executive Board monthly, and we’ve held membership zoom meetings. However, some of you have expressed the need for more frequent updates, so I will post more status reports going forward to ensure everyone has multiple channels for receipt of information. I read everyone’s emails (both the public and numerous private ones I receive) and speak with faculty from across the campus. I understand and hear your frustration and fear about our future and will post about negotiations more frequently. I understand the stress the administration’s choice to impose a premium increase has caused and we are working to reverse this, including taking legal action. Just remember, we cannot negotiate in public.
Labor contract negotiations are stressful. They are long and arduous. A fair result is hard fought going through multiple stages until the parties get to “yes.” The other side always uses tactics designed to instill fear to divide and conquer. Let’s not succumb to these. I feel confident that if we stay united better days are ahead.
Faren Siminoff, NCCFT President