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Maryland Community College Faculty Want an Equal Say

February 12, 2014
What would the right to collectively bargain mean for Maryland community college faculty and staff? It would mean “an equal voice at the table,” NEA Executive Committee member Maury Koffman told Maryland lawmakers in February, and also faculty’s participation in a collaborative process that “truly advantage our students, the taxpayers, and all of public education.”

Faculty and staff from MD community colleges urged state delegates to support a bill that would enable collective bargaining on their campuses. Pictured front and center are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, NEA Executive Committee member Maury Koffman, and MSEA Assistant Executive Director Sean Johnson.

NEA/Mary Ellen Flannery

In a hearing before the House of Delegates appropriations committee, Maryland community college faculty and staff, as well as Secretary of State John McDonough and NEA’s Koffman, urged delegates to support a bill that would enable about 19,000 Maryland community college employees to collectively bargain. This “fundamental right” already extended to state employees, McDonough said. And, while it would not necessarily increase costs or tuition, he promised it would provide an effective means for employees and management “to come together in order to provide quality education for students at a reasonable cost.”

Faculty members told lawmakers they want an equal say in important decisions around class sizes, faculty workload, job descriptions, and more. In essence, they want to make sure their working conditions support student learning.

Julie Lewis, a theater professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, told state delegates that a union could help her to help her students.

NEA/Mary Ellen Flannery

“We often find that decisions are made that we have no idea about,” said Julie Lewis, a Community College of Baltimore County professor. “I was previously part of a faculty union in New York State, and as a union member you feel like you’re part of the decision making process. You feel like you have a voice.”  

Lewis was joined in the jam-packed House of Delegates hearing room by faculty from at least two other community colleges, whose collaborative efforts have been strongly supported by the NEA-affiliated Maryland State Education Association. Before their testimony, they were welcomed to Annapolis by Lieut. Gov. Anthony Brown. 

Currently NEA represents about 200,000 higher education faculty and staff, about half from two-year colleges. They include full-time faculty, as well as adjunct or contingent faculty, plus academic professional staff and educational support employees, and they range from technical colleges in Washington State to community colleges in South Florida. Regardless of job title or geography, they’re united in their pursuit of working conditions that enable student learning. 

The Maryland bill, which has the support of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, would allow faculty, full-time and contingent, as well as staff, to decide for themselves if they want a union. “What is core to Maryland, and America, is the concept of self-determination, and also the right to collectively bargain,” noted House delegate Mary Washington, of Baltimore. “This (bill) doesn’t supplant local control, in fact, it enables local control,” she said.

In their efforts to get that equal voice at the table, faculty and staff have been supported by NEA/MSEA and its partners, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500. Currently, SEIU 500 represents part-time faculty at Montgomery College in Maryland, thanks to a Montgomery County-specific collective bargaining law, while AFSCME represents staff at Prince George’s Community College because of another county-specific law.

A handful of community college presidents also testified and urged delegates to reject the bill. Their employees are happy, and they have plenty of opportunities to say what’s on their mind, they said. One mentioned her electronic mailbox that facilitates communication between her and employees.

But at least a few state delegates were skeptical of their claims: “Enlighten me, how is it with the open line of communication that you describe, we have so many people here today? ... I’m trying to reconcile this rosy picture, ‘everything is okay,’ with all the support for this legislation,” said Delegate Keith Haynes.

Professor Julie Lewis, Professor Eldon Baldwin, NEA Executive Committee member Maury Koffman, and Professor Carr Kizzier want MD faculty and staff to have a seat at the table.

NEA/Mary Ellen Flannery

That’s because it’s not okay, especially for her adjunct and contingent colleagues, Lewis told delegates—and 80 percent of the faculty at Maryland community colleges are contingent, testified Esther Merves, research director at the non-profit New Faculty Majority. They earn poverty-level wages, are hired “just-in-time” with little predictability in how, or what, or when they’ll teach, and they can be fired on a minute’s notice. And forget about health insurance… Administrators at Prince George's Community College recently cut the working hours of their contingent faculty in a misguided attempt to avoid providing them with health benefits.

“Administration says there’s no drumbeat for this, but I’d really like to make them listen,” said Tim May, an adjunct professor at Anne Arundel Community College. May also told delegates that better salaries isn’t his primary goal—although adjuncts typically earn about $20,000 or little more per year. “Yearlong appointments are just one thing we could achieve (in a collectively bargained contract,” he said

Faculty workload limits that make sense for student learning are another, pointed out Prince George’s Community College full-time faculty member Wendy Perkins. “Administration packs classes, and we have no say in the matter,” she said. But having so many students restricts her ability to provide individualized instruction, as well as work-intensive assignments.

“All of you who oppose this bill,” noted Delegate Barbara Robinson. “It appears as if you’re in management…”