Representatives of the Yosemite Community College District and its faculty union, the Yosemite Faculty Association, met for a day-long contract negotiation on Sunday that may have averted a strike at the start of district’s spring semester.

Jim Sahlman, president of the YFA, said he was “confident” the contract negotiation crisis would likely be resolved soon. The parties will meet again on Dec. 30.

“It's probably been some of the best discussions we've ever had,” Sahlman said. “We are on our way to resolving this very quickly and we can all move forward in a genuine spirit of cooperation. I feel like we’re moving forward in a very good way.”

The parties met from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sahlman said. Sahlman said the topics discussed at the negotiation could not be released because of confidentiality rules.

The YCCD was represented by Chancellor Henry Yong, Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Gina Leguria and Vice Chancellor of Finance Susan Yeager. The YFA was represented by Sahlman and Tom Nomof, a Modesto Junior College physics teacher, and Dimitri Keriotis, a counselor at Modesto Junior College.

Interim Public Information Officer for the District, David Lyghtle, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A statement from the district released on Sunday said “unanimous support” of a fact-finder contract recommendation issued by the parties would assist in concluding negotiations.

The fact-finder report, prepared by Public Employment Relations Board mediator Bonnie Castrey of Huntington Beach, was issued to the YFA and YCCD on Dec. 19. The details of the recommendation, which are non-binding, will be released to the public on Dec. 29.

“We are certainly going in the right direction. Everything we’ve talked about is very encouraging and we are looking forward to the next meeting,” Sahlman said.

The restarted negotiations has not removed the threat of a strike scheduled for Jan. 14, Sahlman said, or for the district to impose its “last best final” contract offer on the union.

The Jan. 14 strike, the first day of the district’s spring semester, was announced on Friday when the district initially said they would not meet with the union until Dec. 30. The strike was not set with an end date or timetable. The YFA overwhelmingly voted to approve a post-impasse strike on Sept. 19, two days after the fact-finding session.

Sahlman said the potential strike and contract imposition were “technically” still in place, but the parties were focused on “moving forward.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said. “We’re less focusing on those issues and our attention is really about resolving the contract, and more than that, resolving our differences.”

The district's last best offer was for a two-year contract covering 2017-18 and 2018-19, with 2 percent and 4 percent raises, respectively.

The union has proposed being paid at the median level of districts of similar size and has denounced a district proposal increasing class sizes. In a YFA press release from Nov. 22, the union said its members were 22 percent below the median.

The union said they made several “compromise offers” with a “slower implementation timetable” below 22 percent that were rejected.

An unfair labor practices strike on Nov. 27 and 28 canceled approximately 160 Columbia College classes and 2,600 MJC classes. In all, 2,067 Columbia College students and 18,000 MJC students were not able to attend their scheduled courses.

The YCCD includes Modesto Junior College, which has a enrollment of 18,980 students, and Columbia College, which has an enrollment of 2,907 students.

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.

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

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