NMC Board Delays Decision On Faculty Contracts
By Craig Manning | Sept. 24, 2019
At a meeting last night (Monday) -- where more than two dozen urged otherwise -- the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) Board of Trustees voted to delay any decision about faculty contracts until at least October 2. On that date, representatives from the NMC administration and the college’s two faculty unions – the NMC Faculty Association and the NMC Faculty Chair Association – will meet at the bargaining table in hopes of coming to terms on a final contract.
“The Board of Trustees continues to be committed to our fiduciary responsibility to our region’s taxpayers and our tuition-paying students,” said Board Chair Chris Bott in a prepared statement. “We have instructed the administration to proceed with the October 2 session that was suggested by the state mediator, and have given them guidance as to positions they may take. We are hopeful that we can bring the negotiations to a close with an acceptable contract at the earliest possible time.”
The NMC administration and its faculty unions have been negotiating contractual matters for more than a year. The timeline dates back to August 5, 2018, when the administration first reached out to faculty members to request meeting dates for initial contract negotiations. The most recent faculty contracts expired December 31, 2018.
On January 17, the NMC administration filed a “Petition for Fact Finding” with the state, seeking an impartial third-party mediator (or “Fact Finder”) to review the negotiations and offer recommendations for resolution. In June, the faculty unions stated they would accept the Fact Finder’s report sight unseen if the college administration would do the same. The administration declined the offer, citing its fiduciary responsibilities as a public institution.
The Fact Finder’s report came back on August 23, calling for compromises in most areas. In terms of salary, NMC’s initial contract offer would have provided for increases of 1-2 percent each year through 2021, depending on each faculty member’s existing salary. The faculty unions, meanwhile, were seeking 4 percent salary increases each year, regardless of an employee’s existing salary. The Fact Finder split the difference, recommending across-the-board salary increases of 2 percent in 2019, 2.5 percent in 2020, and 3 percent in 2021. The Fact Finder also issued recommendations on matters such as child care leave, family and medical leave, health and dental coverage, and more.
Following the release of the report, Brandon Everest, president of the NMC Faculty Association, called the salary recommendation “fair and just,” and said that the unions were “satisfied” with the recommendations – even if “some of the findings did not go our way.” Neither NMC nor the unions were legally obligated to accept the terms of the Fact Finder’s report.
Everest and other members of the unions were part of a packed house at Monday’s meeting, which drew public input from nearly 30 individuals. In his public comment, Everest encouraged the Board of Trustees to accept the Fact Finder’s recommendations, in part as a way to ensure that NMC’s new president could start his tenure “out from underneath that cloud.” “If you are willing to accept these recommendations, we can move immediately toward settlement,” Everest said. The majority of the other public commenters read variations on a similar statement: “We implore the board to accept the Fact Finder’s report as a whole and move us toward settlement.”
The three-and-a-half-hour meeting culminated in a lengthy closed session segment, when the Board of Trustees recessed to discuss the Fact Finder’s report and review potential options.
Per requirements of the fact-finding process, both parties are required to get back to the negotiating table within 60 days after the report was released. That timeline would give NMC and its faculty until October 22 to come to terms. If there is no settlement at that point, the NMC administration has right to implement “terms of Last Best Offer” under the rules of the fact-finding process.
“And we don’t accept that,” Everest said, referring to the last official contract offer the administration made. “We would ratchet up the pressure.”