Part-time instructors seek bargaining power

A advertised opportunity for Olympic College students to ask questions of local lawmakers turned into an advocacy session for a bill that would allow part-time faculty to participate in collective bargaining.

“Our governor and the federal government know that economic stimulus and public investment in infrastructure are central to the solution to getting us back on track,” said Dr. Nathaniel Hong, a part-time English instructor at the school. “We tend to think of infrastructure as roads, bridges, utility grids, and buildings, but an educated workforce is no less an element of the thing we need in place to make this state bounce back.

“We are not asking for money,” he said. “We are only asking for the right to negotiate our own salaries.”

The event took place Nov. 19 in the Olympic College Student Center. All of the local representatives were present aside from 23rd District Rep.-elect Jan Angel, who was attending a legislative training session.

Supporters of the measure said it advocates equal bargaining rights for part-time faculty, bringing them in line with all other instructors.

Hong said that it would not cost the state anything to enact the measure, although the eventual salary increases will come out of the respective colleges’ budgets and could lead to an increase in tuition.

The legislators generally supported the idea, while confirming that extra compensation is not forthcoming.

“We do not have justice and equality in this area,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island). “The budget dilemma that will challenge us that the we need to find a way to sustain what we have already undertaken. There could be a multi-billion dollar shortfall, and we will see another economic forecast in the next 90 days that will tell us exactly how bad it is going to be.

“We are looking at the most significant economic turmoil this nation has ever seen,” he said. “There is no book written that tells us how to respond.”

Rockefeller said everyone should reach out and help their neighbors, and that everyone who has a job today “should feel blessed.”

By this yardstick, collective bargaining for teachers seems like small potatoes.

Hong acknowledged the prevailing poor economic conditions, and that salary raises at this point are unlikely. Still, he argued, the measure would make it easier to set fair compensation when conditions improve.

Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) stressed the importance of community colleges in a poor economy, since many people who lose their jobs look to them for retraining.

“Community colleges rapidly adapt their curriculum to the changing economic requirements of the country,” he said, adding “the economy isn’t just crashing, it is restructuring.”

“As people lose their jobs community colleges provide an opportunity for people to move on, and up,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor). “They are an important source of talent and innovation.” 

The presentation was one-sided, with no representation of the reasons the bill should not be passed. Hong said that no opposition to the proposal has yet emerged, but that some college administration officials “will be nervous about this because it is different. But we have no desire to inflict harm on educational institutions through our own self-interest and greed.”

The measure received the most explicit support from Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo).

“Everyone should have the right to collectively bargain for their own salaries,” she said. “We need to make sure that community and technical colleges are able to fulfill their purpose and contribute to the development of the global economy.”

It was up to Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) to put the event in perspective.

“The only reason we are all here is so nat (Hong) could get us on TV and pledge support to this bill.”

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