Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Message from Mike Kent Regarding Contract Ratification

The following was sent via email to all P/t Union members last week:

Hello Part-time Faculty Members,

At this point, you have received two communications from the union delaying the ratification vote on the tentative agreements between the college and the union. You are probably wondering why. The purpose of this letter is to explain the problem we have encountered and to inform you about the options the union is pursuing to overcome this latest challenge.

To understand the issue, you need a little history of our talks with management over the past 6 months.
You will recall that last fall we informed you we had reached an impasse with the management’s bargaining team on several key issues: job security, course scheduling and wages. We initiated mediation with the college, and were able to come to some agreements in a number of key areas. Job security and course assignments were a major source of disagreement, but we managed to settle on mutually agreeable language in December. By the end of December, the only negotiations that were taking place between the parties were the exchange of proposed final offers, dealing solely with the issue of wages. From January through April, we exchanged a number of proposals back and forth with management until we finally agreed on the wage proposal that was presented to you at the end of April.
What we didn’t know at the time we were negotiating, but later discovered, is that in February and March, 2010, management was negotiating new contract language with the full-time union that would change the way courses were assigned within the centers. The system that had existed previously gave full-time faculty first claim to all courses up to their normal full-time load. The classes that remained after the full-timers had their full load were then assigned to part-time faculty, and in some cases given to full-time faculty as “overload.” The Deans and Associate Deans of the centers were responsible to decide how the courses were distributed and could take into account such things as their budget, the past assignments given to full- and part-time faculty members, the expertise of the full- and part-time faculty members, student feedback, etc. Under this system, the managers were responsible for making decisions that were in the best interest of the students, the college and the taxpayers.
Under the new agreement, the authority to make these decisions has been taken away from the managers. The infamous Appendix U (which we brought to your attention via e-mail in April) set up a course assignment process that functioned like this:

1.) Full-time faculty receive their normal course load.

2.) Non-probationary part-time faculty receive their base assignments.

3.) All remaining courses are then offered to full-time faculty to take as overload, up to an additional 40% load (2-3 additional courses). Full-time faculty are not limited to their own departments, but may take any courses for which they could potentially obtain temporary certification, regardless of whether they have ever taught the course before.

4.) Probationary part-time faculty receive whatever is left.

This was obviously a profound change in the course assignment process. Probationary part-time faculty comprise two-thirds of our membership, and this new scheduling process put them all at substantial risk of losing their courses. (Probationary faculty are those who have taught for the college for fewer than 6 semesters.) The college essentially gave the full-time faculty the right to assign themselves overtime.

The agreement itself boggled the mind. The full-time overload rate averages $6000-$7000 dollars per course, plus additional retirement contributions (compared to $2500 for a part-time faculty member). A huge number of full-time faculty (up to one third) are approaching eligibility for either regular or early retirement. Faculty approaching retirement have high incentive to maximize their income for their last three years of employment. The extra load increases the benefits they receive under the Wisconsin Retirement System formula. This overload option means the maximum financial exposure for the college is up to $15 million dollars per year. Actual costs are likely to be in the $5-10 million dollar per year range and is not an unrealistic possibility. (For comparison purposes, the total cost of the wage package they offered us is $300,000 to $400,000/yr.)
There are a number of shocking aspects to this proposal. The insane misappropriation of tax payer resources, the impact on students, and the philosophical position that it is more important for the well-compensated full-time faculty to receive overload than it is for our grossly-underpaid regular members to receive even their basic course assignments.
The union took the following action in response to this proposal. We contacted the Full-time Faculty Union, AFT-WI and ultimately brought our concerns to AFT-National. I addressed the MATC Board twice, drawing their attention to the implications of this proposal. We asked the full-time faculty not to ratify this provision that was so harmful to our members. Ultimately, none of these efforts did any good.
In the mean time, we negotiated our economic settlement with management. Management never brought the new course assignment process to the table and never even told us they were negotiating it with the full-time faculty. We only discovered it after the full-time faculty announced the agreement.
After reaching our economic settlement, and after the Board ratified the full-time tentative agreements, we evaluated our options with respect to the course assignment language.

Wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment are legally known as “mandatory subjects of bargaining.” An employer cannot unilaterally change the status quo in any of these areas without bargaining with the union. Clearly, management’s agreement with the full-timers has an impact on our hours and terms and conditions of employment. To implement that change without bargaining it with us is an Unfair Labor Practice, which we could attack in court. This is our option of last resort.
Our dilemma is that if we ratify our contract without bargaining over this issue, management could take the position that we waived our right to bargain it, thus harming our Unfair Labor Practice claim. They could take this position, even though they never disclosed their intent to change the status quo on the course assignment process.
In our discussions with management, management has insisted that we ratify the tentative agreements as they stand. We have proposed a memorandum of understanding

(MOU) to deal with the course assignment process. We have attempted to deal with this demand by seeking an agreement with management that acknowledges that the ratification of the other Tentative Agreements (TA’s) would not constitute a waiver of the course assignment issue. Management has rejected these efforts. Our last proposal to management asked for a mutual understanding that by ratifying the tentative agreements we were agreeing to change the status quo in the manner described specifically in the TA’s and that we were not agreeing to modify the status quo in any manner not described in the TA’s. Management’s rejection of that language sent a strong signal that they intend to make the waiver argument.
Our efforts to engage AFT-WI and AFT-National to mediate the issue with the full-timers have been unsuccessful. Our perception of these organizations is that they simply value the full-time faculty more than they value us, and the full-time faculty union has no apparent interest in discussing the issue. Worse, last fall AFT-WI made thinly veiled threats that it would attempt to impose receivership on our union if we didn’t stop upsetting the apple cart with the full-time union. We have taken measures to protect our union and the part-time faculty members against such action and will be providing more information on these matters in later communications.
So, as the situation stands now, we have brought in outside legal counsel for the Unfair Labor Practice claim. We are attempting to schedule a final meeting with management, including legal counsel on both sides. If we fail to come to an agreement, we will be seeking an injunction against the implementation of the new course assignment process.
It is possible that this course of action will send us to arbitration on the contract, and it is possible that MATC will revert to an earlier final offer. The executive leadership of the union believes, nonetheless, that the course assignment issue is too important for too many of our members to surrender.
We will keep you posted on this issue, and other issues the union is facing this summer. Until then, we remain loyally, faithfully and diligently in your service.

In Solidarity,

Mike Kent, President

MATC Part-time Teachers’ Union


  1. Keep up the great work Mike! We are behind you 100%. Thanks to all the union members who have been working so hard on behalf of the part time faculty. Hang in there.

  2. Let the membership vote please!!!!!