City College Faculty Boycott Chancellor’s Speech Over Bargaining Impasse

City College’s faculty union says a strike is possible if a new contract isn’t signed soon.

Photograph by Marynoel Strope for the Ingleside-Excelsior Light

City College of San Francisco’s faculty union declared a bargaining impasse on contract negotiations and boycotted Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb’s morning address Jan. 15.

Organizers from American Federation of Teachers 2121 gave speeches, chanted and performed a campy Star Wars-inspired skit to illustrate their struggles while Lamb spoke inside the Diego Rivera Theater.

“We’ve found $23 million they’re just ignoring,” union secretary Jessica Buchsbaum told the exuberant crowd.

Members argue the money is there for increased pay but it is mostly languishing in reserves and sometimes spent on pricey consultants. Administrators’ six-figure salaries have also been a point of contention for the union. Among the items being negotiated are a minimum class size of 15, peer evaluations, and a new contract.

Administrators maintain that a dramatic drop in enrollment—blamed on nationwide trends and lingering effects of the accreditation crisis—and a lack of state appointment dollars have forced them to scale back programs, classes and pay raises.

“I know it’s not necessarily easy walking through that gauntlet outside,” Lamb told the scant audience. “I just want to recognize your courage in doing so and your willingness to come together to find a common ground.”

Otherwise, Lamb’s address did not focus on the negotiations. With a 5 percent increase in enrollment from a year ago today, she said the administration was cautiously optimistic about the college’s projected enrollment numbers. Newly returned Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Ron Gerhard said that the school would stay within budget this year.

The teachers are operating without a contract after rejecting the San Francisco Community College District’s proposal, which they say keeps salaries lower than they were in 2007.

“By declaring an impasse, it gives us a right to take a strike vote,” said AFT Vice President Alan D’Souza.

A strike is possible, but it will take several months. First, the labor board will initiate a mediation process and then move onto fact-finding. If there is no agreement after that, the SFCCD can impose a contract, or the union can legally strike.

Union members say the district has been moving at a “tortoise pace.”

“I don’t know what their tactic is,” D’Souza said. “It does appear they’re not taking this seriously.”

In addition to increasing managerial control over faculty evaluations, the district has also proposed a 26 percent reduction in the course schedule over the next six years, putting the onus on professors to fill their classes, a particular challenge for unique departments like Diversity Studies.

“Our goal is to unite with AFT,” said Alan Banks, a shop steward and member of SEIU 1020’s bargaining team. SEIU represents City College’s classified, or non-teaching staff. “We have their back. It’s really unfortunate what the district is doing, after we took on pay decreases and hiring freezes to keep the college afloat.”

Instructors took pay cuts during the 2013 accreditation crisis. But union representatives claim the cuts were unnecessary, and the year ended with a $14 million surplus.

Banks noted the high percentage of part-time staff at City College. While part-timers are paid comparatively well at the school, it’s far cheaper overall to hire non-tenure teachers who are not given benefits, full schedules or job security.

While Lamb and other administrators addressed a half-empty auditorium, chants and cheers could be heard outside. The chancellor’s speech is traditionally held on Flex Day, when teachers prepare for the new semester, and usually, the large audience spills over into nearby rooms.

But this year, the crowd filled the courtyard outside, pausing their speeches to chant, “Fair contract! Now!” as administrators filed out of the theater.

Police officers and security guards were on hand, but the protests continued without significant scuffles or incident. Earlier in the morning, members of the Academic Senate walked out of the auditorium to join the group outside. Union representatives estimated 400 protesters took part in the boycott.

Buchsbaum emphasized the plight of teachers trying to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the country, describing home visits to teachers living in basement rooms without even a doorbell.

“We believe faculty working conditions are student working conditions,” said D’Souza, who estimated that 1,200 out of 1,400 teachers were active union members.

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