In the late hours Wednesday night, after three days of marathon talks and the threat of a strike looming, the administration of Community College of Philadelphia and the union representing its faculty and staff reached an agreement the union says is an improvement over what the college in January called its “best and final offer.”
“It’s a victory under the circumstances we’re living in," said John Braxton, copresident of the 1,200-member union.
According to Braxton, the contract — which must still be approved by the union’s members, a vote that will likely conclude next week — includes:
Wage increases over six years, including bringing lowest-paid staff — house cleaners and clerical workers — to more than $15 an hour.
A health-care option that involves no premiums.
The same required course load for current faculty members.
A major concession: New faculty members will have to teach one additional course throughout the academic year.
CCP declined to confirm details of the contract until ratification, but Judith Gay, vice president for strategic initiatives, called it a “successful resolution.”
“Community College of Philadelphia is stronger today as a direct result of this vigorous debate and dialogue,” Donald “Guy” Generals, president of CCP, said in a statement.
As a way to offset costs of the contract, the city may commit additional funds to CCP on top of the already proposed $1.3 million increase in the college’s funding for next year, said Lauren Cox, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney. The city currently provides about 20 percent of the college’s $130.6 million operating budget.
Course load was the biggest sticking point for the union. The administration had wanted every faculty member to teach five courses per semester instead of four, but the union said it would detract from the out-of-class time teachers spend with their students, what they said is a large part of their jobs.
Under the proposed contract, only new faculty members would have to teach an additional course per year — negotiated down from the final offer of two additional classes per year, or one per semester. Braxton said it has not been determined whether new faculty will be those who are hired after May 1 or Oct. 1.
“We still think it’s forced overtime,” Braxton said. The different requirements also might divide and weaken the union over time, as new faculty members join and see the disparity between their workload and that of veteran teachers, Braxton said.
Strikes in higher education have been increasing in the last decade: In 2018, there were 11 strikes of higher-education workers, the highest number since 2013, said William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College. In 2017, there were five. (This number includes strikes of graduate students, faculty, staff, and health-care workers.)
The uptick in strikes, he said, is due to a decrease in funding for education at every level: primary, secondary, and higher education.
It was the wave of successful teacher strikes that’s swept the country over the last two years that helped make the case for a strike at CCP. Those strikes made the union feel as if the public would support it if a strike were authorized, Braxton said.
Braxton expects a final vote on the contract by early next week.