Wednesday, October 28, 2009

SEIU Local 500 Declares Impasse with Montgomery College

SEIU Local 500, which won a campaign to represent Montgomery College’s adjunct professors in June 2008, has reached deadlock with the administration on a new contract. That does not bode well for the new college President who replaced Brian Johnson in September.

Union organizing in the public sector is supposed to be easier than in the hard-as-nails private sector. (Disclosure: your author has tossed around a few of those nails and has also sat on a couple of them in fifteen years in the labor movement.) But SEIU’s campaign put the lie to that myth. When the adjuncts began organizing, former President Johnson brought in a union-busting consultant to spread negative propaganda about unions to their colleagues. The college also claimed that the adjuncts were not really public employees and thus were not eligible for collective bargaining. But Johnson eventually backed down and SEIU won a 365-105 vote to represent the adjuncts.

Johnson dragged his feet on a contract until various revelations prompted his ouster in September. But new interim President Hercules Pinkney has not concluded a contract with the adjuncts either, prompting a declaration of impasse by SEIU. The local told the adjuncts:

After more than a year of difficult negotiations with the Montgomery College Board of Trustees, we’re disappointed to report that we’ve reached an impasse with the college over just one issue: money.

We’ve resolved all the other points of contention. Our contract, once approved by you, will bring part-time faculty higher ESH limits and greater job security then we've ever had. It also includes a commitment from the college to work with us toward a permanent solution to pay inequity between full-time and part-time faculty for in-classroom instruction, as well as to explore health insurance options for us.

However, the college has proposed no improvements in pay for part-time faculty this year, despite the fact that the college provided pay increases and bonuses to full-time faculty and classified staff.
The pay issue was one of the most critical reasons why the adjuncts sought out SEIU for representation. Prior to the organizing campaign, adjuncts were paid $880 per credit hour, much less than the $3,038 per credit hour paid to full-time professors for the same work. That means an adjunct teaching four three-hour courses in each of two semesters would make just $21,120 per year, a poverty-level income in Montgomery County. The issue is particularly acute considering that adjuncts outnumber full-time faculty by two-to-one.

It’s intolerable that a county that emphasizes education as much as Montgomery would sanction poverty level incomes for professors who teach at its community college. The new administration must strike a deal on the contract and put this issue to rest.