Clark College faculty to vote Wednesday on new contract

The tentative deal was struck after 10 hours of negotiations on Tuesday

VANCOUVER — There will be no classes for a third consecutive day Wednesday at Clark College but, unlike Monday and Tuesday, faculty won’t be on the picket lines.

Instead, they’ll be heading to campus to examine a tentative deal reached between negotiators with the Clark College Association for Higher Education (CCAHE) and the college.

After 15 months of negotiations, Clark College faculty will vote on a new contract Wednesday. Photo by Mike Schultz
After 15 months of negotiations, Clark College faculty will vote on a new contract Wednesday. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I really couldn’t be any happier right now,” said union President Suzanne Southerland, a communications professor at Clark College. “I’m thrilled.”

Southerland told Clark County Today both sides met for about 10 hours Tuesday, with a tentative deal finally being reached around 7 p.m.

“I’m just really proud of our membership and the unity and solidarity that was shown over the last year in support of these negotiations,” she said, “and especially over the last few days.”

Over 300 CCAHE members voted unanimously in December to authorize a strike if a deal couldn’t be reached soon. That strike, the first ever for Clark College, started on Monday with faculty picketing outside the school both days.

Southerland says they’ve had strong support from the public, as well as students.

“We’ve had a lot of students out on the picket line, bringing us snacks and water,” she says. Several other area unions also had members show up to show support for the effort.

Mark Keely, an educator at Clark College, is shown here during a rally last March. Members of the Clark College Association for Higher Education will vote on a new contract Wednesday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Mark Keely, an educator at Clark College, is shown here during a rally last March. Members of the Clark College Association for Higher Education will vote on a new contract Wednesday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Details of the tentative agreement won’t be released until after faculty have a chance to review it and vote on Wednesday afternoon. Membership is scheduled to meet at Gaiser Hall on the college campus at 1 p.m. 

Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill said a plan for resuming Winter quarter classes will be communicated to students as soon as the deal is ratified.

“In reaching an agreement, Clark College can get back to what we do best: serving students,” Fowler-Hill said in a statement Tuesday evening. “We welcome our faculty and our students back to school.  We’ll have more details on the process tomorrow.”

Both sides have been negotiating for around 15 months. This is the first time faculty can negotiate directly for local dollars, after the passage of House Bill 1237 in 2018. The state still funds cost of living increases, which amount to 3.7 and 3.2 percent in 2018-2020.

Those local dollars, the college says, have been dwindling after seven consecutive years of declining enrollment. Right now, 73 percent of the college’s operating budget comes from state funding and student tuition, with most of the remaining 27 percent coming from Running Start, in which public school districts reimburse the college for students taking part in the program. This year, that number is expected to be around 2,000 students, amounting to around $14 million. Currently, 80 percent of Running Start revenue covers salary and benefits college-wide, with 51 percent going to faculty.

According to the most recent offer released by the school, full-time faculty would receive a 1 percent raise retroactive to 2018-19, and an additional 5.75 percent increase this year. That is on top of 3.7 and 3.2 percent cost of living increases in 2018-2020, which are funded by the state. Part-time faculty would receive increases over five years, bringing them to within 70-73 percent of full-time pay.

The school says they had initially set aside $1.4 million for faculty raises, though that most recent offer nearly tripled the amount to $4 million.

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges estimates pay at community colleges here have fallen behind other states by around 12 percent. CCAHE members say they are losing out to surrounding community colleges and K-12 schools where top-end pay is in the low $90,000 range, or sometimes into the triple digits. By comparison, the union says, a full-time faculty member at Clark tops out at just over $76,000 currently.

Educators at Bellevue and Highline Community Colleges near Seattle recently settled for raises between 8-10 percent, though Clark College points out that number includes 5 percent “premium pay” for King County, which is funded by the state.

Presidential candidate on campus

As both sides were meeting to hammer out a deal, and educators were on strike, the college was hosting the first of four finalists to take over for Bob Knight, who retired as president late last year.

As Dr. Sara Thompson Tweedy, vice president of student access, involvement, and success at SUNY Westchester Community College in New York, held an open forum on campus, faculty with picket signs surrounded the building outside.

“It just showed our determination for a fair contract, and it also showed our unity,” says Southerland, who also says the school deciding to move ahead with hosting the candidates was a sign of disrespect to what was going on.

“Our Board of Trustees proceeded to continue their search process, which included having the candidates come to campus, despite the fact that the faculty were on strike,’’ Southerland said. “So that just goes to show how little value they have for faculty, and how little they were taking our actions seriously.”

A spokesperson for the college says there was discussion about delaying the visits due to the ongoing strike, but they decided it was important not to fall too far behind in the process. Most colleges hire top administrators in late February, ahead of the Spring quarter, and the school didn’t want to risk losing out on a good candidate to another school.

Whichever candidate ultimately gets the job won’t have long until they have to deal with another round of negotiations for CCAHE members, which will happen sometime in May.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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