Clark College faculty vote to authorize a strike

No work stoppage will occur until after Winter break

VANCOUVER — The ongoing wage dispute engulfing the Clark College campus took another step on Saturday as faculty represented by the Association for Higher Education (AHE) voted unanimously to authorize their union representatives to go on strike if a deal with the community college can’t be reached soon.

Over 300 Clark College Association of Higher Education members voted unanimously on Saturday to authorize union leaders to go on strike if agreement can’t be reached on salary increases. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association
Over 300 Clark College Association of Higher Education members voted unanimously on Saturday to authorize union leaders to go on strike if agreement can’t be reached on salary increases. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association

“We need a fair contract with compensation that’s competitive with K-12 and other community colleges — compensation that will attract and retain the best faculty in our region for our students,” said Suzanne Southerland, union president, following the vote. “As a union, we’re all in this together, and that’s what’s going to lead to our winning a fair contract.”

Southerland said there will be no strike called before the end of the year, with students entering finals week on Monday and the Winter break starting next Friday through Jan. 6. 

Both sides have a mediated bargaining session scheduled for Dec. 27.

“The college continues to be willing to bargain in good faith,” said Dr. Sandra Fowler-Hill, the school’s interim president in a statement sent to Clark County Today. “We are all eager to reach an agreement and move forward.”

According to a letter sent by Fowler-Hill to college employees on Dec. 5, the college has put forward two offers. Either a 1 percent raise retroactive to the 2018-2019 school year, followed by a 4 percent increase in 2019-2020, or a 1 percent raise for 2018-2019, followed by a 5 percent raise for part-time staff in 2019-2020 and a 3 percent raise for full-time employees.

Both offers would come on top of a state-funded 3.2 percent cost of living increase. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the college would now be funding COLAs out of their own budgets. These adjustments are state-funded).

Hannah Jackson, a math professor at Clark College and chair of the AHE bargaining team, speaks ahead of a vote on a possible strike Saturday. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association
Hannah Jackson, a math professor at Clark College and chair of the AHE bargaining team, speaks ahead of a vote on a possible strike Saturday. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association

The college says both offers would amount to a $1.3 million budget increase, out of an overall operating budget of $73.2 million.

“Unfortunately, while we believe our proposal is fair and reasonable in light of the College’s financial limitations, we have been unable to reach agreement,” said Fowler-Hill in her statement. “Though we have shared with the Union and mediator, that the offer represents the limit of what we consider financially sustainable, the College remains committed to be available to fulfill our collective bargaining obligations.”

More than 300 Clark College AHE members voted on Saturday, the largest number ever for a general membership meeting, according to Rich Wood with the Washington Education Association. 

The union represents 363 part-time and 188 full-time instructors.

A 2018 change by the Washington Legislature allows faculty unions to bargain for their own salary increases, sparking a wave of negotiations across the state.

Wood says Highline College in Des Moines settled their contract dispute with a 9.1 percent raise, as well as 10 percent for part-time adjuncts. Faculty at Bellevue College received a 6.2 percent salary increase this year.

Faculty at Clark College aren’t on strike yet, but they did vote to authorize leadership to go on strike at a meeting on Saturday. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association
Faculty at Clark College aren’t on strike yet, but they did vote to authorize leadership to go on strike at a meeting on Saturday. Photo courtesy Washington Education Association

The college and faculty have been in negotiations for 14 months, and employees have been working without a contract for the past year.

“It’s time for the Clark College administration and Board of Trustees to invest in our faculty,” said Southerland. “So far, their pay proposals have fallen far short of what’s needed. Our union members are standing united together for ourselves and our students, and we are dedicated to negotiating the fair contract we deserve.”

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