Employees voted this month to take an across-the-board five percent salary reduction in order to help close a $5 million budget deficit at Southwestern College and avoid class cuts and layoffs.
Failure to pass the cut would have meant putting jobs and essential student services on the chopping block, according to Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish.
Southwestern College Education Association (SCEA), representing the teaching staff on campus, passed the resolution, 132 – 126.
“This vote was a real squeaker,” said Phil Lopez, professor of English, who supported the measure. “It was in no way a mandate or a vote of confidence of the direction SWC is headed. There were as many angry comments on the ‘yes’ ballots as there were on the ‘no’ ballots.”
California School Employees Association (CSEA), representing the classified staff on campus, passed the resolution, 142 – 94.
“The classified staff was asked to make a very difficult decision and it came through,” said Bruce McNintch, CSEA president.
Counselor and former faculty union president Corina Soto filed an unfair labor practice against the SCEA on behalf of the entire faculty, claiming that the union had breached its contract by putting forth a vote for salary cuts. Soto said the administration caused staff to vote out of fear. All employee units on campus helped to craft the salary reduction plan and each voted “yes” on the proposal.
Soto alleged the cuts to salary were not given adequate explanation during negotiating sessions. Several faculty leaders made it clear that Soto did not speak for them or the union, but only as an individual. Soto said she interpreted a campus-wide letter from Nish to say that if the vote passed, $1million in cuts to overload and part-time budgets would not occur, but an e-mail from the administration after the vote indicated that cuts would occur regardless.
“I know that I am responsible for causing a lot of discussion and dissent about this particular issue,” said Soto. “It is my contention that we were played.”
SCEA President Andy MacNeill disagreed. Allegations in the unfair labor practie charge were filled with inaccuracies, he said, and Soto had no authority to file an injunction on behalf of the employees of SWC. SCEA is the only entity who can represent the faculty as a whole. MacNeil said that he understood Soto’s frustration and acknowledged that she was not alone in her dislike of the agreement.
“This is a tough issue,” said MacNeill. “Nobody wins in a five percent pay cut.”
In response to a claim by Soto regarding the lack of communication between the union and Nish, MacNeill said that communication comes in many forms.
“We encouraged Dr. Nish to hold forums, to get out to people to be able to talk to them because they had lots of questions for her,” said MacNeil. “Then we asked her to go to school meetings then we also asked her to send out exactly what a no vote means.”
Nish did meet with faculty at school meetings as well as a series of events she called “listening forums.” She has said at faculty meetings and the last governing board meeting that she spent at least 22 hours listening to employees, “gathering data” and contemplating what she heard.
Several students thanked the faculty during the May governing board meeting for putting students needs above their own paychecks.
“The main reason I am here today is to thank everyone for taking the five percent pay cut,” said a student speaker who did not give his name. “That really shows that you’re here for the students. I know it was hard but I just really wanted to thank you for what you’ve done.”