Traverse City News and Events

"I Think We Got To A Good Compromise": NMC, Unions Nearing A Conclusion

By Craig Manning | Oct. 9, 2019

The faculty unions of Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) voted on Tuesday to ratify a tentative contract agreement with the college. The vote signals light at the end of the tunnel for a negotiation process that has stretched on for more than a year.

According to Mark Liebling, NMC’s associate vice president of human resources, “the next step is that the college will present this agreement to the Board of Trustees with a recommendation that they approve it.” That vote will take place at a board meeting Monday, October 14. If the board approves the agreement, Liebling says it will take effect “immediately.”

The terms were hashed out last Thursday during a marathon state-mediated session between members of the NMC administration and NMC’s two unions: the Faculty Association and the Faculty Chair Association. The meeting ran for 10 hours before the parties arrived at an agreement.

“It was a long session,” Liebling tells The Ticker. “It's hard to talk about the psychology of the other side, but I believe the seriousness of the matter became more apparent to both sides as we got toward the end of the day. Nobody wanted to go to the next step [of not having a contract]. Everybody wanted to get through that day with some kind of agreement in place. We're happy to be in a place now where we feel like we're moving forward and we're on a pathway to an agreement that is going to be good for the college, good for the faculty and students, and considerate of priorities of taxpayers and tuition-paying students.”

Brandon Everest, president of the NMC Faculty Association, agrees.

“It was long 10-hour mediation, but with some push and pull and back and forth, we were able to get to terms that made sense for both parties,” Everest says. “Ultimately, that's what matters most. It's fair to say that we know both sides are interested in getting this thing wrapped up so that everyone can return to the usual operations of the college. I think everyone involved in the negotiations is really happy to be moving out from under the cloud of this tension. [The faculty unions] definitely look forward to the trustees' response, and we anticipate that they will be ratifying the agreement.”

Both sides declined to go into detail about the terms of the tentative contract at this time – though a statement released by NMC on Tuesday afternoon stated that agreements have been reached “on all outstanding issues including salary and organizational flexibility.”

“The union board and the college administration are in agreement that until the trustees ratify the agreement, we would like to try to keep the details between the parties who have been at the bargaining table over the past year,” Everest says. “It's not that we're at all worried, but we want to give the trustees the same ability as the faculty have had to be able to review the contract without additional input.”

NMC and its faculty have been negotiating since early August of last year, with their most recent contract expiring as of December 31, 2018. In January, the college filed for “Fact Finding” with the state, bringing in an impartial representative from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) to hear both sides of the dispute and make formal recommendations on how to resolve it. The Fact Finder delivered their report August 23 – recommending, among other things, larger salary increases for faculty than the college had previously offered. At a Board of Trustees meeting September 23, members of the faculty unions urged the board to accept the Fact Finder’s recommendations as the basis for a new contract. The board ultimately voted to delay their decision and instead pursue an October 2 negotiation session with a MERC-appointed mediator.

Liebling says the mediator played a crucial role in helping the two parties come to terms.

“The mediator really acts as the go-between for the two parties,” Liebling says. “We're in the same building but working in different rooms, and the mediator is going back and forth and floating ideas and proposals, trying to be creative and trying to find a way through what, from the perspective of either room, may look like something insurmountable. So, they're adding some creativity and outside perspective, but also creating a trusted communication link.”

Liebling adds: “I think we got to a good compromise.”

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