Adjuncts file complaint against Community College System
The State Employees’ Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Community College System of New Hampshire, accusing it of obstructing contract negotiations with the system’s nearly 1,500 adjunct faculty members.
The union filed the petition Monday with the New Hampshire Public Employees’ Labor Relations Board after attempting since 2011 to negotiate an initial contract with the system. The adjunct faculty members teach about 75 percent of the courses at the state’s seven community colleges.
The adjunct faculty first organized and sought representation from the union more than two years ago when they began to pursue a contract with the college system.
Shannon Reid, spokeswoman for the Community College System, said progress has been made in all steps of the bargaining process, and negotiators for the college system have been working to address the needs of adjunct professors, whose services they value.
“CCSNH goals have been to increase the compensation rate for adjunct faculty and to address adjunct faculty appointments and working conditions in a manner that does not result in a negative financial effect on students, employees or CCSNH,” she said yesterday.
According to the complaint, the State Employees’ Association and the Community College System began negotiations in October 2011. They were unable to reach an agreement and continued deliberating with third-party mediation in January. In April, the negotiators for the college system declared they had “nothing further to offer,” and the parties reached an impasse. This pushed the process to fact-finding, where it currently remains. Both parties will now present their sides to a third party, who will review the facts and make recommendations for a contract.
According to the complaint, the parties have been unable to reach an agreement due to the system’s “bad faith dealings” with the union. In the complaint, the union accuses the college representatives of regressive bargaining, or bargaining to lower benefits and pay, and changing their position on certain employment terms and conditions after an impasse had already been declared.
The complaint alleges that college representatives dealt directly with unit members instead of dealing with the members of the bargaining team. The union has also accused college representatives of failing to cooperate during the mediation process.
The complaint asks the state labor relations board to order the college system to stop “bargaining in bad faith” and to provide the union with data it has repeatedly requested to support several of the system’s positions. The complaint does not identify the information the union is seeking.
Although the adjunct negotiations have been challenging, Reid said the college system is confident discussions will end in an agreeable outcome for both parties.
“The CCSNH will continue to make our best efforts in good faith to arrive at an agreement that addresses compensation, recognizes the fiscal sustainability needs of the colleges and honors our commitment to student access and affordability,” she said yesterday.
The prolonged discussions have left many adjunct faculty members in a state of confusion regarding their future employment.
Rick Watrous, a state representative from Concord and adjunct English professor at NHTI, said he has heard varied accounts of the negotiations from different faculty members among the colleges. He said the most pressing question concerns the limit on the number of credit hours professors are allowed to teach. Many faculty are unsure whether they can teach up to nine or 10 credit hours, and whether they are allowed to teach over that limit if they split the hours between different colleges.
The uncertainty makes planning for next semester nearly impossible, Watrous said.
“Our supervisors, like my English department head and the person who supervises the tutors at the learning center, are trying to figure out just how many hours they can give us to teach or tutor,” he said. “Not even our supervisors know.”
In an effort to plan ahead, Watrous said he asked Sara Sawyer, director of human resources for the community college system, to clarify the credit hour limitations, but Sawyer said she could not answer because of the ongoing negotiations.
The college system’s unwillingness to address these concerns leaves some professors wondering whether they will be able to earn a livable wage, Watrous said.
“For many of us professors, this is our job, our livelihood, and if they’re limiting us to nine credit hours a semester, that means we’re only going to be making like 10 grand a year,” he said. “That’s not a sustainable lifestyle.”
The Monitor reported April 25 that the Community College System asked campuses to limit adjunct faculty members to nine credit hours per semester beginning in the fall. This translates to 27 hours of work per week, which keeps adjuncts from qualifying as full-time employees, who would be guaranteed health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
“The broader public good was helped by the Affordable Care Act, and we’re doing the best in the context of our limited budget and our focus on student success,” System Chancellor Ross Gittell told the Monitor. “Difficult decisions have to be made, and while we appreciate what the adjuncts bring to the community college system, we are focused on students, on our financial model, and in the context of decades of rising health care costs, you can’t just isolate this point in time and criticize what we’re doing without looking at what’s happening across the country.”
Watrous compared the move to a “Walmart corporation mentality,” in which employers reduce their employees’ hours to avoid providing them with benefits.
“I think the Community College System of New Hampshire should be better than that,” he said. “I just wish the administrators would treat their educators with respect.”
A pre-hearing conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 15 at the offices of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board. An adjudicatory hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Aug. 1.
(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or