Contract talks growing tense at CCP

CCP faculty members, working without a contract since August, protest in a hallway while the board meets.

Mayor Kenney's new appointees have taken their seats on the Community College of Philadelphia's board of trustees - and hot seats, they are.

The contract between the college and the union representing full- and part-time professors as well as janitors, secretaries, and other employees expired in August, and union members are voicing their dissatisfaction with the college's proposals, including increased health costs and a move to have them teach five courses a semester instead of four for a $7,000 boost in base pay.

Faculty yelled out "contract, contract" when college president Donald "Guy" Generals addressed faculty at a meeting this week.

Members of the union also held signs and spoke to the trustees at their meeting Thursday, said Steve Jones, copresident of the union, with 1,000 members including 400 full-time faculty, 400 part-time faculty, and about 200 support staff.

"It's getting to be a very ugly climate," Jones said.

Lynette Brown-Sow, the college's vice president for marketing and government relations, disputed that description.

"We do not feel that we're in any kind of adversarial relationship," she said. "We feel we are ready to continue to have discussions about all of the proposals on the table that all of us have."

The previous five-year contract expired in August, and union members have been working under the terms of the old pact. The union went for two years without a new contract during the last negotiation, and in 2007, the faculty went on strike for two weeks before reaching an agreement on a five-year pact.

CCP is overseen by a 15-member board of trustees, four of whom are new appointments by Kenney: Michael D. Soileau, vice president of planning and strategy for Comcast; Simran Sidhu, executive director of the youth organization HIVE; Joseph S. Martz, chairman and CEO of NHS Human Services Inc.; and Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend, president and CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network.

Negotiations are continuing under the guidance of a state-appointed mediator, the college said.

"We have to remember that [the college] has one of the highest tuition rates of all community colleges in the commonwealth as well as nationally, and is located in a city with one of the highest poverty rates [26 percent]," the statement said. "We want to keep costs down while increasing graduation rates and career and employment opportunities."

Philadelphia residents pay $2,581 per semester for a 13-credit course load, according to the college's website.

Union members have not authorized a strike, but Jones said it remains under discussion. Members watched closely when faculty from Pennsylvania's state universities and SEPTA employees went on strike last fall, he said.

"One of the conclusions we draw is that although it's a last resort, it can be effective," Jones said.

The minimum starting salary for a full-time faculty member is $50,529, with the average below $70,000.

The college has offered full-time faculty no wage increase in the first year of the contract, 1.5 percent in the second and third years, 1.75 percent in the fourth year, and 2 percent in the fifth year.

Faculty are concerned that increasing the teaching load will be followed by cuts in full-time faculty and lack of new hires, Jones said. He said the college's proposal to increase the classes faculty teach amounts to a 25 to 33 percent boost in workload, depending on a faculty member's discipline.

"There's no intention of cutting back faculty," Brown-Sow said.

Another point of contention is health care. The college is seeking increased contributions from faculty, which the union contends will cost members thousands and eat up raises.

"We've emphasized that we want to work with them to bring the cost of health care down," Jones said. "They're focusing on increasing the costs and shifting them to us."

Brown-Sow said members do not pay for health insurance, and need to begin helping to shoulder the cost.

The college also wants a diversity officer or a designee to have voting rights on hiring committees. In recent months, the college has faced complaints that it discriminates against African Americans in faculty hiring.