Looks like Modesto Junior College classes will be canceled due to strike, after all

Signs are pictured from the Yosemite Faculty Association General Faculty Meeting held Nov. 16, 2018, at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale.
Signs are pictured from the Yosemite Faculty Association General Faculty Meeting held Nov. 16, 2018, at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale.

With a two-day strike looming next week, the Yosemite Community College District and a faculty union released statements airing the key bargaining issues in the prolonged negotiation.

The community college district, which oversees Modesto Junior College and Columbia College, issued a new proposal Wednesday that was scorned by the Yosemite Faculty Association, representing professors and instructors. In notices posted on social media, the district informed students that classes will be canceled during the threatened strike Tuesday and Wednesday if professors decide not to teach those classes.

In its statement Wednesday, the district said the Yosemite Faculty Association is seeking an exorbitant salary increase that’s far greater than raises approved for other employees of the community college district. According to the statement, granting the raises would not be fair to the other employees and would bring financial instability to the YCCD.

The district claimed it has made its best effort to avoid a faculty walkout at its two campuses.

The YFA, representing 700 professors and instructors, says the strike scheduled at the two campuses Tuesday and Wednesday is a protest against unfair labor practices. A previous vote in September to authorize a strike stemmed from frustration over a stalemate in the contract talks.

YFA President Jim Sahlman could not be reached Friday. An automatic reply on his email said he would not respond until Monday. Friday afternoon, the YCCD announced a special board meeting set for Monday, with a closed session on the negotiations starting at 11 a.m. and public meeting at 11:45 a.m.

The three years of negotiations have failed to resolve the critical issues that separate faculty members and the district. One problem, according to the YFA, is that not much bargaining took place this year following a district proposal in February that offered a 6 percent raise spread over three years.

“Now, after nearly a year of doing nothing, on Wednesday evening (YCCD) offered 8 percent over four years,” the union said in a response Thursday. The YFA said the district’s “regressive” proposal would keep faculty members at the bottom of a salary comparison of 10 similar community college districts in California.

The district suggested it would take a 22 percent pay increase to bring full-time faculty at MJC and Columbia to the median level of the community college district comparison. Faculty members counter that the district has never made an effort to achieve the goal of median pay, which was part of an agreement more than 10 years ago.

In an effort to complete the current negotiations, the YFA said Thursday it has made compromise offers for far less than the 22 percent and also proposed a more gradual timetable for the increases to make things easier for the district.

The YCCD said that in addition to the pay raises offered, it is willing to adjust the salary schedule so that faculty members earn bigger paychecks after fewer years of teaching. The district statement noted that professors at the two colleges have an 8 1/2-month work schedule and are given full medical benefits, plus the district contributes to their retirement benefits.

Class sizes have been another issue in the stalemate. The YCCD said a committee composed of administration and faculty will review and discuss appropriate class sizes, while the union claims that proposals calling for as many as 45 students in classrooms are unreasonable.

In September, the two sides took part in a fact-finding process that was supposed to help them reach an agreement. But the two sides have waited this fall for a mediator to release a report with recommendations. That report is now expected in early December.

According to the union, faculty members voted Nov. 16 to approve the strike next week after proposed YCCD board resolutions threatened to take disciplinary action against professors for engaging in union activity. Some resolutions that were posted on a board agenda in October were pulled after the YFA challenged their legality.

In its statement Wednesday and a post on MJC’s Facebook page Friday, the YCCD assured the college campuses will remain open if “some” faculty members follow through with the threat of a walkout.

According to the MJC Facebook post, classes will be held “for students whose teachers report to work as scheduled” but classes will be canceled if instructors notify students that they won’t be teaching Tuesday and Wednesday, the notice says. Students will have access to computer labs and most services.

Students were advised to watch for updates via email, social media, and college websites.

In a comment, one person scoffed at a previous district promise of an effective strike contingency plan. “Wait. I thought the district promised the students that no classes would be canceled in the event a strike? What happened?,” Jim King wrote.

The faculty union has said that 86 percent of its members participated in the Nov. 16 strike vote and almost 90 percent of them favored the two-day strike.