YCCD, faculty resume talks. What’s it mean for threatened strike at MJC, Columbia?

Aristotle Tagbo (center right) and Tina Giron (center) participate in a strike on Tuesday morning November 27, 2018 at the Modesto Junior College East campus.
Aristotle Tagbo (center right) and Tina Giron (center) participate in a strike on Tuesday morning November 27, 2018 at the Modesto Junior College East campus.

Negotiators for Yosemite Community College District and a faculty union held a daylong negotiating session Sunday, creating optimism that a labor impasse could be ended before students return to classrooms at Modesto Junior College and Columbia College for the spring semester.

The parties discussed a state mediator’s advice for resolving issues between the YCCD and Yosemite Faculty Association. Professors and instructors at the two community colleges have tried for three years to negotiate a new contract with district administrators; the two sides have officially been at impasse since April.

The faculty’s bottom-rung spot on a salary comparison of community colleges in California has been a major sticking point; in addition, the two sides have not come to agreement over a YCCD proposal for larger class sizes.

“We were very encouraged by how things went ...,” YFA President Jim Sahlman said. “We were able to go through a number of different areas that we had concerns about in the past and had not been addressed before. ... I am feeling very confident that we are getting close to getting this settled.”

A previous contract covering almost 300 full-time and 426 part-time instructors at the two colleges expired in June 2016.

In a news release, the YCCD said the mediator’s recommendations were discussed Sunday in a face-to-face negotiating session with union representatives in the district office. More than a month had elapsed since the last face-to-face meeting. Another meeting will take place Dec. 30.

“The district hopes the unanimous support of the fact-finding report recommendation will assist the parties to conclude negotiations and refocus on student success, enrollment and their shared mission,” the district news release said.

The YCCD office was closed Monday for the Christmas holiday. Another meeting between district and union representatives had been planned for Monday (Christmas Eve), but “we have some homework to do before we meet again and we decided to let both teams spend time with their families,” Sahlman said.

The recommendations in state mediator Bonnie Prouty Castrey’s report are intended as a guide for resolving issues and ending the stalemate. Contents of the report issued last week are said to be confidential for 10 days, allowing the two sides to negotiate privately. The parties are expected to make the report public Saturday when the 10-day period ends.

In late November, thousands of classes at MJC and Columbia near Sonora were canceled when professors and instructors went on strike for two days over an unfair labor practice complaint filed against the district. Frustrated that no talks had been set for the recent 10-day period, the YFA said Friday afternoon that its executive board had authorized another strike for Jan. 14 — the start of spring semester.

Union members have said the threatened walkout could last for two weeks. Right now, however, it appears the union won’t see a need for a second strike. “The biggest stalemate we’ve ever had is getting ironed out and students should feel good about coming back to the college,” Sahlman said. “I feel more positive than I have felt in a very long time.”

About 25,000 students attend classes at MJC and Columbia near Sonora.

YCCD Chancellor Henry Yong, Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Gina Leguria and finance director Susan Yeager represented the district at Sunday’s negotiating session. On the other side of the table were Sahlman, Physics Professor Tom Nomof and counselor Dimitri Keriotis.

Last February, a YCCD contract proposal offered a 6-percent raise spread over three years and a provision allowing instructors to advance more quickly on the salary schedule. The union, which rejected the offer, wanted to see a firm plan for moving toward the median of the salary comparison, which includes a dozen community college districts.

Faculty salaries at MJC and Columbia have slipped more than 20 percent below the median.

Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.