Last summer, as contract negotiations at western Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College dragged into their second year, part-time faculty union leaders knew they needed help.
Administrators at the bargaining table were unfriendly to faculty’s calls for fair pay, job security, and a more transparent and fair system of evaluation. Meanwhile, faculty knew they deserved more for their hard work for students, but as members of a relatively new, independent union, they didn’t know how to achieve it in negotiations.
“Our inexperience was a factor,” acknowledges Bea Michalik, president of the Part-Time Faculty Association (PTFA) at Linn-Benton, which first unionized in 2016.
Frustrated but hopeful, the union turned to the Oregon Education Association (OEA), which represents faculty and staff at more than half of the state’s community colleges. In October, members voted decisively (75-2) to affiliate with OEA.
With OEA’s experienced staff at the bargaining table, the tide has turned. “It was so much easier and smoother,” says Michalik. “OEA is so helpful and I can’t say more about how appreciative I am for [OEA consultant] Brett Nair.”
While they still face challenges in an administration that doesn’t want to fairly pay its part-time faculty, progress is being made. The two sides are currently in mediation, and “if we’re not able to push through,” says Michalik, “we’re prepared for impasse.”
Poverty pay and arbitrary systems
The new OEA affiliate represents nearly 200 part-time faculty at Linn-Benton, who account for nearly three-quarters of the instructional staff at the college. They teach courses in agriculture, applied industrial technology, arts and humanities, education and social services, and more. Their students are the community’s future healthcare workers, educators, and other essential workers.
For this critically important work, Linn-Benton’s part-time faculty is paid about $700 per credit, or $2,100 for a three-credit class. To put together a living wage, part-time faculty regularly work at other jobs, says Michalik. Making matters worse, it’s impossible for them to achieve any job security. At the end of every semester, every part-time faculty member’s employment is terminated. At the start of the next semester, they are rehired—or not.
Faculty also would like some kind of evaluation system, and systems around discipline and discharge, says Michalik. “We want a procedure by which they can communicate to us that something is not right. “Currently, they just say, ‘okay, you are terminated. We are not hiring you,’ and so we cannot improve [our teaching practices.]”
Currently, part-time faculty also don’t have access to health and retirement benefits—“not even close,” says Michalik—but those particular conditions of employment are not part of the current contract negotiations.