By Chris Cunningham
The Scene staff
Bargaining on an adjunct faculty contract is taking longer than expected.
Union leaders had predicted that St. Louis Community College adjuncts would be voting on a contract proposal by the end of last year. But bargainers haven’t agreed on issues related to job security and haven’t started talking about pay.
“We know this is the part that gets more complicated,” said Kathy Ratino, union bargaining committee member. “But this is the part that adjuncts care the most about. The easy stuff is over. The more complex stuff is what we are dealing with now.”
Ratino, who teaches communications at Forest Park, said it is “hard to say” when a contract proposal will be ready for a vote. The next scheduled meeting for the union and college bargaining committees is May 24.
“We are in the last couple of issues, but they are big ones,” Ratino said.
STLCC adjuncts voted 188-15 in October of 2015 to unionize with Service Employees International Union Local 1. Since that time, the union and college bargaining committees have met 15 times. A contract would cover nearly 600 adjuncts on all STLCC campuses.
Job-security issues range from adjuncts getting compensated for planning a class that later gets canceled to adjuncts being guaranteed the right to keep teaching the same class.
“If you have been teaching a class for five years, if there is no problem with your performance, you shouldn’t see someone new teaching that class,” said Steven Taylor, a union bargaining committee member who teaches math on the Wildwood campus.
Bargainers haven’t talked about any financial issues, including adjunct pay, Taylor said.
“Pay for those who are highly trained, who are responsible for teaching courses in mathematics, science, history and English … The pay at this point is not appropriate,” he said. “We would like to see a greater consideration for our services, which is currently underwhelming.”
Would higher adjunct pay force a reduction in the number of faculty positions? Taylor doesn’t think so.
“We are cognizant of the fact that there are economic realities, but there is room for improvement in pay without jeopardizing the number of positions,” he said.
Bob Thumith, STLCC’s labor relations manager and college bargaining team member, did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.
The union and college reportedly have come to agreement on several issues, including academic freedom and an adjunct grievance procedure.
Last month, the union encouraged adjuncts to start wearing buttons that read, “Adjuncts for a Fair Contract.”
“It gives people the opportunity to talk to students and other faculty about the issues,” Ratino said. “(Some may ask) ‘What is that pin for?’ Some people don’t know there is a difference between adjuncts and other kinds of professors.”
Taylor wore his button on the Wildwood campus last month.
“Most students assume you are a full-time professor, so I think many were shocked that they were taking so many classes with adjunct professors,” he said. “It was also a good opening for a conversation about the topic of a fair contract.”