Faculty group seeks new union

Benjamin Gruey, Layout Editor

A group of SRJC adjunct and full-time professors are trying to replace the All Faculty Association (AFA) as the union representing SRJC instructors.

The United Faculty Santa Rosa Junior College (UF SRJC) is currently passing out signature cards to call an election to decide who will represent the SRJC faculty. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) would call, and oversee, the election if UF SRJC gathered signatures from at least 30 percent of the faculty. The election would be through a secret ballot likely through the mail.

The UF SRJC evolved from the Adjunct Caucus and the Faculty Alliance for Equality. The Adjunct Caucus was concerned with the way AFA handled the budget cuts in the 2009/10 school year and members claimed the AFA council did not fully represent the make-up of faculty at SRJC. They wanted the council to change from 13 full-time and six part-time (adjunct) to a 50/50 split between full time and adjunct faculty.

As full-time faculty joined, the group changed their name to the Faculty Alliance for Equality. Now in its third installment the group is calling for a disbandment of AFA and a new union with the backing of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) to be set up. The CFT is California’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers based in Washington, D.C.

AFA has been SRJC faculty’s main bargaining unit for more than 20 years. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) tried to represent SRJC faculty twice before. The first time was at the creation of AFA. The second time they outspent AFA three to one, but PERB did not get enough signatures from AFT to call an election.

The new UF SRJC union would “have the best of both worlds,” said Michel Kaufmann, an adjunct English as a Second Language instructor. The new union would be autonomous, run by and for SRJC faculty, but would also have the backing of the larger affiliate CFT.

The organizers of UF SRJC went to CFT; CFT didn’t come to SRJC, Kaufmann said. “We liked what we saw statewide and in different districts.”

Kaufmann said he wants more transparency in a bargaining unit representing faculty at SRJC than AFA has shown in the past. He would also like respectful distance between the district and faculty and a “healthy dialogue questioning the Board of Trustees.”

Kaufmann said it was impossible to know what the future will hold and couldn’t give any specifics on what UF SRJC would do if it managed to de-throne AFA. He claimed UF SRJC “will not be in the business of concessions, but we are realists.”

Michael Ludder, adjunct political science instructor, said the signature cards are only to support an election. “I think it’s in the faculty’s best interest to have an election, to give them a choice.” Ludder claims part-time and full-time faculty who support AFA have signed cards asking for an election to give the wider faculty a chance to vote.

Currently AFA dues are .55 percent of an instructor’s salary. An affiliation with the CFT could increase dues to between .9 and 1.4 percent, the UF SRJC Frequently Answered Questions stated.

Virtually all money from AFA dues stay at SRJC, AFA President Warren Ruud said. AFA and 12 other community colleges pool money for common concerns in the California Community College Independents (CCCI), an association supporting and providing a formal voice for independent bargaining units in California community colleges.

CCCI members also use the same lawyer in labor disputes, “one of the best in state,” Ruud said.

An e-mail from AFA stated the American Federation of Teachers, which is CFT’s national affiliate, failed twice to decertify AFA. Both times AFT spent huge sums, the e-mail stated, and failed. These attempts left AFA reserves drained. The e-mail urged faculty members not to sign the card so AFA can spend money on SRJC faculty instead of on defending its place as the union at SRJC.

When asked about the on-going AFA issue Ruud said, “The perception is [it’s] there because it gets repeated over and over again.”

Before the Spring 2010 semester, the District adjusted salaries for full-time faculty at SRJC to be ranked tenth in the state. When California set up categorical to increase adjunct pay in 2002, SRJC defined “parity pay” to be at 87.5 percent of what a full-time faculty member would make for the same amount of time in a classroom. Other community colleges in the state defined parity pay as low as 60 percent.

AFA and the District negotiated cuts in faculty pay over the past year. Currently full-time faculty is ranked below rank 26 while adjuncts are around rank six in the state.

While PERB is involved in this issue at SRJC all negotiations between the District and AFA will halt until the election is over or called off. This means if the decertification process is still active when the Fall Semester’s classes need to be scheduled, the District will have to draw them up at the current faculty salaries. With the dismal looking budget for the 2011/12 school year, the most substantial way to cut costs will be to cut sections.

“We will try to expedite the matter,” said Les Chisholm, the division chief of the Office of General Council at PERB. “But there isn’t any way to know how long it will take.”

If PERB gets 30 percent of the faculty’s signatures AFA represents, faculty will have an opportunity to bring additional issues to PERB’s attention. After the additional issues are sorted out, PERB will try to work out a time and a method for an election with AFA, UFSRJC and the SRJC District.

The language on the signature card is written to comply with PERB’s regulations, Chapter 1, sub-Chapter 6, 32700 A1 that states the card “shall clearly demonstrate that the employee desires to be represented by the petitioning employee organization for the purpose of meeting and negotiating or meeting and conferring on wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.” Though the wording on the signature card endorses UF SRJC, it will be the election that decides who represents SRJC faculty, Chisholm said.