Following negotiations with the faculty and support staff union that have dragged on for several years, Community College of Philadelphia president Donald “Guy” Generals said the college is ready to step up the pressure.
If progress isn’t made over the next week, Generals said the college may move to unilaterally impose a new contract with terms that the school laid out in May in its so-called last best offer.
“We’re not prepared to say it will happen at any particular date, but we feel it is well within our rights to impose the best and final offer,” Generals said during a meeting Thursday with,members of the Inquirer Editorial Board. Jeremiah J. White Jr., chair of the college’s board of trustees, also attended.
Negotiation sessions were scheduled for Friday and next week.
To a union, an imposed contract is considered a nuclear option — and could lead to a shutdown of the 27,800-student college.
“If they impose, it’s a lockout,” said Steve Jones, chief negotiator for the union, which represents about 1,300 full- and part-time faculty and support staff.
Jones said it’s not a given that faculty and support staff wouldn’t report for work if a contract were imposed, but it would be an option the union would consider.
In 2014, the School Reform Commission, then the Philadelphia School District’s governing body, tried to cancel the teachers' contract and impose terms. The union obtained an injunction and ultimately won at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court level.
Earlier, in 2000, before the state takeover of the district, the Philadelphia school board imposed contract terms on teachers. The union went on strike about a month later. The strike lasted only a weekend, and the sides reached an agreement about two hours before schools were due to open.
Generals said he had informed Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council members of the possibility of imposing terms. The move follows three years of sometimes contentious negotiations that have failed to yield an agreement. Union members have been operating under the terms of a contract that,expired in August 2016.
The move also follows a ruling by a hearing examiner for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that found CCP faculty are required to participate in assessments designed to determine whether courses are helping students learn. Refusing to do so could be considered a strike activity, the ruling found.
Generals said the college’s lawyer advised that ruling opens the door for the imposition of a contract.
Jones disputed that analysis.
“This would be, first of all, unlawful,” he contended, and “second of all, the ultimate union-busting move by a public employer that we think would be a disaster for labor relations, not just for CCP but all over Philadelphia.”
Perhaps the major sticking point is the college’s attempt to increase the workload of new full-time faculty members from four courses a semester to five. Current instructors would have a choice: Those who opt for it would get a $9,000 increase in their base pay. Nearly a third of faculty already teach five.
Over time, the move would reduce the number of full-time faculty, and savings would be in the millions, Generals said.
Jones countered that it would lead to less quality and less vital interaction between faculty and students.
“We’re puzzled by the administration’s insistence that forcing people to work more is somehow going to improve the interaction with students,” Jones said. "We feel that the administration has an irrational fixation on changing one aspect of our working conditions that feels very reminiscent of, ‘I’m going to build a wall.’”
Generals said the change is imperative: The school currently has a turnover rate of about 100 adjunct professors a year.
“It’s an educational quality issue and a financial issue,” he said.
The contract also would require employees earning more than $40,000 a year to pay toward their health insurance premiums for the first time. Contributions would range from $16 per month for a single employee earning $40,000 to $88 per month for family coverage for an employee earning more than $100,000, Members pay nothing toward health insurance, Generals said.
Jones countered that the health-care contributions would significantly eat into the wage increases being offered. (The college has offered a 4.55 percent raise upon ratification, 2.65 percent on Sept. 1, and 3 percent on Sept. 1, 2020.)
Some support staff, Jones said, are earning as little as $12 an hour. (Generals said that would be raised to $15 an hour by Sept. 1, 2020, under the imposed terms.)
The minimum starting salary for a full-time faculty member at CCP is $50,529 and the average below $70,000.
Also at issue is a provision that allows faculty 55 and older with more than 10 years of service to move into a half-time teaching load but maintain full-time benefits, which Generals said is too costly.