The Yosemite Faculty Association will likely vote to strike for two days at the end of November in protest of what they have characterized as unfair labor practices and bad faith negotiations by the Yosemite Community College District.

Yosemite Faculty Association (YFA) President Jim Sahlman said the union was holding a vote with members on Friday to determine if they would choose to strike. The vote was scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m., but he said he was confident that that union would vote for the strike.

“We’re hoping that if we do this and we voice our opposition to the way the district violates good faith bargaining, we hope that this will eventually get the district to wake up and bargain faithfully so we can avoid a spring strike,” Sahlman said.

Sahlman said the strike was scheduled to occur on Nov. 27 and 28, after Thanksgiving.

The two-day strike would be seperate from a post-impasse contract negotiation strike, which would occur during the spring semester. The YCCD and YFA have long expected a recommendation from an impartial fact finder, which was expected in late October, but is now expected by early December.

The pending two-day strike, Sahlman said, was based on a series of controversial district board resolutions, which would have given emergency authorities to Chancellor Henry C.V. Yong Sr. that the union believed would infringe on its right to strike, and a “regressive” contract offer made on Nov. 9 by the district that proposed less compensation than a previous offer.

The union has amended and updated an unfair labor practice charge originally submitted to the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Oct. 9. The injunction was declared temporarily moot after the controversial resolutions were pulled from the board agenda on Oct. 10 at Columbia College.

“Basically, we’re telling the district they need to negotiate in good faith because they haven't been doing it,” Sahlman said.
If the two-day strike is approved, the YFA will strike for two days during the current semester, which ends on Dec. 15 for Modesto Junior College and Columbia College, the two schools in the district.

Modesto Junior College employs 244 full-time faculty employees as of 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.

Enrollment of both full-time and part-time students in the district includes about 18,980 students at Modesto Junior College and 2,907 at Columbia College.

Approximately 187 union members and part-time staff from Columbia College and Modesto Junior College met at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale for many hours in “robust discussion” on Friday to decide on the strike and dates, Sahlman said.

The Yosemite Community College District offices and the Modesto Junior College East and West campuses were closed to classes, activities and events at 4 p.m., Nov. 15 through Sunday, Nov. 18 due to air quality concerns.

Yong said in an email that he hoped the two-day strike could be avoided and the two groups could “continue to work to solve issues.”

“Where there is willingness to work together, there is always hope in finding a solution,” Yong said.

Sahlman said the district’s updated contract proposal on Nov. 9 undercut previous offers and demonstrated a mentality intended to intimidate the union from striking.

Previously, the district has proposed a 6 percent salary increase over three years, which would begin at a 2 percent salary schedule increase for faculty that will compound over the three years. The agreement would also restructure the salary schedule, which would increase some salaries as high as 7.17 percent over the three years, the district has said.

According to the unfair labor practices injunction, the new proposal added a new proposed year to the teachers’ contract, 2019-2020, with a 1 percent salary increase in that year.

The compensation would change from 6 percent over three years to 7 percent over four years, which would reduce compensation increase to a 1.75 percent per year average compared to a 2 percent a year average.

The new proposal also included new demands such as the elimination of the negotiated cohort (other districts of similar size used to guide relative compensation) and the withdrawal of the unfair practice charge.

The two-day strike would be predicated on the three emergency resolutions featured on the district board agenda on Oct. 10 that were removed after the submission of the injunction.

One of the resolutions would have declared “any strike, walk-out, slowdown or other type of work stoppage by the employees” unlawful.

The others delegated authority to Yong to close the schools in the advent of a strike, to deduct salary from employees with unauthorized absences, or suggest disciplinary action against employees, which could result in their dismissal.
The union has claimed that the resolutions were intended to “chill” the staff from the possibility of a strike.

Wendi Ross, deputy general counsel for PERB, said the injunction would be assigned to a regional attorney, who would determine if there was sufficient evidence that a violation occurred. The case would then be referred to an informal settlement conference, and then to a formal hearing with an administrative law judge if it went unresolved. The judge would determine if a violation occurred and any respective consequences, Ross said.

The regional attorney dealt with cases in the order that they came, so there was no time limit for a resolution to the injunction, she said.

Trading barbs

Sahlman emphasized that the possible unfair labor practice strike did not preclude another strike based upon the continuing impasse in contract negotiations.

Negotiations began on Nov. 6, 2015, and the groups have been at an impasse since April. The teachers have not had a contract since June 30, 2016. The Yosemite Faculty Association voted on Sept. 19 to authorize a strike, with 95.4 percent in favor.

For over two weeks, both sides have made public statements appealing for resolution, but have often traded barbs as well.

According to a Yosemite Community College District press release, board chairman Darin Gharat called upon the YFA during the Wednesday board meeting in Modesto to disclose the specific percentage increase to the salary schedule they have asked for.

“The District, taxpayers and the public have a right to know what salary increase YFA is demanding and its potential impact on the District’s budget,” the press release said. “How can the District reach a settlement with YFA when the community has no information as to the fiscal impact such a settlement could have on the institution?”

The YFA issued a counterproposal to the district’s “regressive” settlement offer at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sahlman said.

In an email on Friday, Yong said he could not comment on the YFA proposal due to confidentiality restraints, but noted that the statement emphasized the importance of the lack of information regarding the financial consequences of the counter proposal.

Sahlman said the percentage increase proposed by the union was available since the fact-finding conference between the two parties held on Sept. 17.

The union has proposed being paid at the median level of the other districts of similar size, which include San Joaquin Delta Community College District, Contra Costa Community College District, Kern Community College District, and southern California districts including Long Beach Community College District.

In an email to district representatives, Sahlman said a 13.9 percent on-schedule pay increase would increase the YFA to the 8th of the 11 other districts in the cohort, and to median total compensation.

The most recent calculation put the union at 22.3 percent below median in total compensation (salary and benefits), currently at 9th of the 11 other districts in the cohort.

Sahlman said the statement from Gharat was evidence of bad faith negotiating and he had requested a retraction of the statement.

The district has also proposed increasing some classes to 45 students to balance classes that they say are dropping in capacity. An increase in maximum enrollment requirements may also be accompanied by minimum enrollment increases, which could lead to the elimination of certain classes.

The faculty union has proposed increasing 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.

The district has been under additional scrutiny since Cathleen Galgiani, a Democratic State senator for the 5th District in California, called on the district on Oct. 29 to respond to a series of inquiries on the negotiation process.

The 5th District includes all of San Joaquin County; a small sliver of Sacramento County; and Riverbank and almost all of Modesto in a portion of Stanislaus County.

“Frankly, I am disappointed in how these negotiations have been managed. I am especially troubled having voted to support this year’s state budget that increased community college funding in the hope that these new funds would be used to improve instruction and student outcomes,” she said in the letter.

Yong said the district had not yet responded to Galgiani, but was “preparing to do so in the very near future.”

Fact-finder report

Some reprieve to the contentious negotiation process was expected on Nov. 1, when a neutral contract recommendation governed by PERB was expected to be issued.

The report was not issued and was now expected by Dec. 6, Sahlman said in an email.

Ten days after the fact-finder report is issued the document will be made public.

Joshua Golka, executive director of PERB, said the agency was aware of the delay, and the chair of the fact-finding panel, Bonnie Castrey, was in contact with the parties.

Golka said he was not sure why the deadline was not met and why the recommendation had been repeatedly postponed. Sahlman said he believed the delay was due to health issues.

Ross said the extensions to the timeline was “not abnormal,” and allowed for “flexibility in the process” which could possibly lead to an agreement before the recommendation was issued.

“We always want to give our parties, regardless of who they are, this opportunity to get through this process so they can have the room to maneuver and see if an agreement can be had even before a report can be issued,” she said.

Ross said the fact-finding process was under the jurisdiction of PERB, but the agency acted as an oversight to the process rather than adjudicating it to meet the deadlines.

Representatives of both parties have indicated that they are waiting for the report to potentially resume negotiations.

Yong said both sides were required to meet and negotiate when the report was issued.

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

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