By Steven Cooper in News
ASCC has never bargained with a union before, but that could soon change.
Kimberly Sullivan, president of the Association for Higher Education, Clark’s faculty union, said she emailed ASCC President Emmah Ferguson on May 13 to begin the process of negotiating contracts on behalf of ASCC program directors.
One of the main events prompting the discussion is a recent change to how ASCC program directors are hired.
According to Director of Student Life Sarah Gruhler, Instruction used to be in charge of the hiring. But an audit last year determined that ASCC should be in charge of hiring because only it is legally allowed to control Service and Activities Fee dollars—the funding source of programs, Gruhler said.
Starting with next year’s programs, ASCC is now in charge of hiring through an undetermined process. “We haven’t fleshed that out entirely yet,” Gruhler said. “We definitely want to be able to have student input.”
According to Sullivan, the changes raise many questions. “Is your program going to be there in a year or two years? How’s it going to get canceled? Who is going to evaluate you? Is your job description going to be rewritten?”
Despite the multitude of questions, Sullivan said the overall goal is simple. “What faculty seek here is stability and predictability,” she said.
Before contacting ASCC, Sullivan said she first tried to initiate negotiations by filing a “demand to bargain” with the office of Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook.
According to Sullivan, a demand to bargain is the official process to negotiate with the union. “It is a legal term—a negotiation term—that you always use when you’re talking in terms of contracts or collective bargaining agreements.”
Cook said, “It simply means that people need to come together and make a good faith effort to work things out.”
According to Cook, after talking with the assistant attorney general and the union’s lawyer, they clarified that Instruction was not in charge of negotiating ASCC contracts.
Sullivan said that Cook told her the assistant attorney general determined ASCC is responsible for negotiating.
Sullivan said she plans to file the demand to bargain with ASCC, but is first going to talk to the ASCC president to explain the process. “I didn’t file because she’s not going to know what a demand to bargain is,” Sullivan said.
According to ASCC Finance Director Bryce Ruppe, program directors have already had many chances to offer their input as ASCC changed the process this year. “I went to an AHE meeting and invited all the program directors to let us know [what they thought].”
However, according to Sullivan and some program directors, the bigger issue is whether there will be additional changes.
“They have a new finance committee every year made up of students and that’s great, but they all make decisions that are pretty permanent, based on their one year of information in that position,” said Richard Inouye, director of the Instrumental Music program. “They make decisions about programs that have been going on for over 20 years.”
Don Appert, who directs the Orchestra Program and serves on the faculty union Senate, agreed. “The union’s demand to bargain isn’t necessarily out a desire to see some big increase to the stipends as to protect faculty and some of the conditions that go along with doing these programs.”
Sullivan said she also has questions about how ASCC will evaluate program directors. “Where’s the criterion for your evaluation and your competence? Typically you have some kind of performance standard,” she said.
Ruppe said, “We have a job description and I think that’s enough to tell if someone is doing their job.”
Gruhler said that evaluation might be an area they could “add to or refine,” but that it is already better than before. “Just having a job description and a contract that they would sign is something more than we’ve had in previous years.”
According to Gruhler, the union has never negotiated with ASCC before. Because program director positions are technically volunteer positions and separate from Instruction, Gruhler said she hasn’t determined whether the union has the authority to negotiate. “There hasn’t been any determination on whether that’s something that they can really do,” she said.
But Sullivan said in her research of other colleges in Washington she found the directors of similar programs were covered by their faculty union.
Even if the current union doesn’t cover program directors, Sullivan said she would help form a new union specifically for directors. “If somebody proved to me that the Washington Education Association is not the bargaining body, I would go to NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and say: ‘Then we will establish the bargaining body. Here is my vote of 50 percent plus one. Send in my certification.’”
If she was convinced that the faculty union did cover program directors, Sullivan said she would go the Public Employees Relation Commission. “If nobody can prove that WEA is not bargaining body and they refuse to negotiate with us, we go to the PERC board. And the PERC board would say you have a bargaining body—you have to bargain.”
Either way, Sullivan said she will make sure program directors have a union to negotiate.
According to Cook the “demand to bargain” Sullivan plans to file with ASCC requires negotiations, not agreement, so some issues may take a while to be resolved. “People can walk away from a demand to bargain without an agreement,” he said.
Sullivan said that if the demand to bargain doesn’t result in agreement, she would most likely pursue mediation. “You file with the Public Employees Relation Commission to get a mediator who pretty much makes sure you stay in the room until you get a deal.”
Can Program Directors be paid less than minimum wage?
Sullivan said one important issue she will advocate during negotiations will be funding program directors at minimum wage.
According to a survey conducted last year by a faculty union bargaining subcommittee, 10 program directors provided itemized summaries of hours worked to support their programs. The average wage equivalent was $8.17 per hour—short of Washington’s $9.47 per hour minimum wage.
According to Gruhler, minimum wage laws don’t apply to program directors, because the positions are voluntary and the stipend given to directors is only supposed to be supplemental income.
Increasing stipends would harm programs, Gruhler said. “We would be cutting goods and services; we would be cutting travel; we would be cutting all of those other areas where students are currently benefiting to pay salaries.”
Stipends aren’t necessarily the primary concern of program directors. Orchestra director Don Appert said, “I’m not as concerned about my stipend as I am concerned about the overall budget I have for the program, because that is going to impact students and the overall experience they have in the orchestra.”
Director of Intramurals Garet Studer held the same position. “Obviously if there’s money available, I think paying something that would be even close to minimum wage would be fantastic. I don’t know if that’s possible with how the ASCC budget is. If you’re paying program directors more, that potentially takes away from other programs.”