A faculty union of the Yosemite Community College District, which includes Columbia College, may call for a strike in the coming month due to grievances over compensation increases and planned class-size expansions.

Jim Sahlman, president of the Yosemite Faculty Association, said a potential strike likely will occur next month if the district and union can’t come to an agreement.

“We don’t want to strike, but at the same time we’ve exhausted all other possibilities,” he said. “That may be an option we have to pursue.”

The Yosemite Community College District includes Modesto Junior College and Columbia College. Modesto Junior College employs 244 full-time faculty employees this fall, and, as of spring 2018, 346 part-time employees. Columbia College employs 55 full-time faculty employees as of this fall and 80 part-time employees as of spring 2018.

All full-time faculty members pay union dues, a representative of the Yosemite Community College District said, with only a small portion of part-time employees who have paid to be voting members in the union.

The faculty union has been without a contract since June 30, 2016. Negotiations began on Nov. 6, 2015, Sahlman said.

The two parties have been at an impasse since April 2018 and have initiated procedures for a “fact-finding” hearing on Monday and Tuesday, which Sahlman said he hoped could provide a breakthrough.

Yosemite Community College District Director of Public Affairs Connie Chavez reinforced that the district as continuing to work “in good faith” with the Yosemite Faculty Association to reach an agreement that also acknowledges the district’s financial constraints.

“At this point, we’re not aware that a strike is imminent. There are these steps to go through in the fact-finding process, so we are hopeful,” she said.

The union is also committed to negotiation, Sahlman said, but the union will simultaneously initiate the internal mechanisms and authorizations to allow a strike should an agreement not be reached.

An official tabulation of a vote to authorize a strike, which Sahlman said is non-binding but would allow the union to pursue the strike option, is planned for Sept. 19, he said.

“We have to put things in place in case it comes to that,” he said. “The ball is in the district’s court. They own us being in this position.”

The most recent offer from the district before the impasse was declared in April was a 6 percent salary increase over three years. Chavez said the 2 percent salary schedule increase, effective the first of the month following a potential ratification and approval by the board, would compound over the three years. The agreement would also include a restructuring of the salary schedule, which would increase some salaries as high as 7.17 percent over the three years, she said.

Sahlman said the proposal violates an agreement between the district and the faculty union to be paid at a rate close to other community college districts comparable in size and geography.

The other community colleges in the cohort include San Joaquin Delta Community College District, Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, Contra Costa Community College District, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Kern Community College District, Long Beach Community College District, Palomar Community College District, San Jose – Evergreen Community College District, State Center Community College District and West Valley-Mission Community College District, he said.

The union has proposed being paid at the median level of those districts, Sahlman said. The faculty union is currently at the bottom of all the districts, 24 percent below the median, in terms of total compensation (salary and benefits), he said. Sahlman did not have a dollar amount available to represent the median compensation.

“Even with the increase, we’re going to stay at the bottom,” he said in reference to the 2 percent- increase-per-year offer.

Headcount totals of both full- and part-time students in the district include 18,980 students at Modesto Junior College and 2,903 at Columbia College.

The faculty union has also argued that the district is projecting a budget surplus of about 9 million in the coming year, which would not make the salary increases a burden, Sahlman said.

Chavez argued that changes in the state funding model, which provided the additional money to the budget, did not necessarily mean that additional funds were available for compensation increases. The district has “financial commitments that are pending toward the additional dollars coming into the district,” she said, which include retirement payments.

“That’s the purpose of the fact-finding next week. It’s to talk about the median, the cohort and the data,” dhe said.

Other grievances by the faculty union include a district proposal to increase maximum class sizes, which Sahlman said will probably lead to increases in minimum enrollment requirements.

“With Columbia College, that would be a disaster,” he said. “If the bar is set higher, it would make it more difficult to meet minimum enrollment, which means more classes being cut,” he said.

The faculty union is also asking for an increase in payments for “lab classes” from 75 percent to 85 percent, as well as stopping some specific labs from dropping to 75 percent from 100 percent paid, he said.

Sahlman said a “best case scenario” was that an agreement is made on Monday before the fact finding hearing. If no agreement is reached, the fact-finder will issue a report to both parties within two to three weeks that will include a recommendation on the best possible solution.

The recommendation is non-binding but could sway the negotiation terms before the onset of a possible strike.

Sahlman said during a strike, participating faculty will not show up to classes to teach their courses. Students will be notified of calendar updates once the strike is presumed to have ended, he said.

“We don’t want to disrupt our classes for ourselves, and we don’t want to disrupt our students,” he said. “Literally the question here that I would have, if I am a Columbia community member, is why is the district letting it get to this point?”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.