When negotiations fail

It is a sad state of affairs when the faculty of two community colleges works for two and a half years without a contract and then the administration points out that they work eight and a half months but the district pays their medical insurance for a year.

Is this what the so-called negotiations between the Yosemite Community College District and the Yosemite Faculty Association have come down to? That sounds more like playground taunts than leaders trying to solve a problem.

The board then doubled down and voted to withhold pay for the two days this week faculty members at Columbia College and Modesto Junior College staged a strike to protest what they called unfair labor practices.

The relationship between the faculty union and the administration has frayed to the breaking point. It does not help matters that the impartial mediator has not produced a report. The two sides met with the mediator for two days in mid-September. The recommendation was due Nov. 1. Now it won’t be available until Dec. 6. This is only making a bad situation worse.

The parties started negotiating three years ago and reached an impasse in April. This is not a union that is quick to stage a drastic action like this week’s strike. The union wants a contract that brings them closer in pay to faculty at similar schools. They say they are 22 percent lower than their peers. The board used this number to say they were asking for 22 percent, which they are not. They are asking for 13.9 percent, which would put them eighth of 11 like schools.

The district is hunkering down with what it called its last best offer — a two-year contract with a 2 percent raise in 2017-18 and and 4 percent for 2018-19. What happened to 2016-17? The administration says that’s not part of this.

Lost in all the money talk is another union demand: smaller class sizes. Students have told The Union Democrat they have had classes so full people have had to sit on the floor. Make no mistake, too many students in a class makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of a teacher, no matter how dedicated they are. It truly hinders the quality of a student’s education.

Speaking of students, what does this stalemate teach them?

The bright spot is Dr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay, Columbia College’s new president, who went out to the picket line on Tuesday and talked to his colleagues with respect and concern. He told The Union Democrat, “It is necessary to differentiate the process from the people. The war and the warrior are not one and the same. I want to build the goodwill and work with each other in the years to come.”

Perhaps the board and administration should let Bandyopadhyay negotiate the contract.

What will the city do?

The city of Sonora has a big decision ahead this month — whether to end its agreement with Tuolumne County to pay a share of the expenses of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority. The city has until Dec. 31 to let the county know.

If it withdraws, it effectively closes the agency and both governments would have to decide how to handle the tough job of attracting business and industry and retaining what is here now. Economic development is not for the faint of heart, not a part-time job and requires a sales person’s touch. That means the sort of person who hears no and thinks “Oh I haven’t explained myself properly.”

At the heart of the problem between the city and county over the TCEDA is trust. That’s also the problem between the TCEDA and a segment of the local population that looks at limited recordkeeping on the part of the agency and lax oversight from the TCEDA board as a dealbreaker.

It is a fact that the agency’s budget has grown when others of equal importance have shrunk or remained flat. It is a fact that the executive director’s salary has grown in nine years from almost $93,600 to $163,000, plus numerous perks, an increase of almost 75 percent. He is one of the highest paid economic development directors in the state. It is a fact that the list of projects released by the agency to show its effectiveness is really no list at all. The names were blacked out and it was what could be remembered, not what actually was.

The TCEDA board, which is headed by Supervisor John Gray, has been cavalier in its dealings with the city and with the public, although there is evidence that better oversight is coming.

At the last City Council meeting, members asked the city administrator and attorney to bring back a resolution to formally ask the county for more time so the results of a management audit can be reviewed before withdrawal is considered. That will be considered Monday night.

If the City Council approves it, the county would be wise to agree.

City Council members also asked for ideas on how they could go it alone. It will be interesting to see what the city administration has come up with.

City Council member Colette Such called on the county and the TCEDA board to tone down its rhetoric if they want to hold onto the city as a partner. That — and written, formal management expectations for TCEDA — is perhaps the best advice anyone can give.

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