CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College full-time faculty members announced they filed a letter of intent to strike and came out in force Thursday in an effort to break a stalemate in a negotiation process that has lasted roughly 19 months.
Instructor after instructor addressed the board for more than an hour expressing frustration in the changes administration has proposed for salary increase opportunities and tuition reimbursements for pursuing advanced degrees and certificates.
While specifics in negotiations were not revealed, many instructors voiced concern over changes to the salary matrix that would limit advancement both in steps and lane switches for longevity and professional development progress. The intent to strike does not mean negotiations have ended or a work stoppage is imminent.
Sarah Sullivan, a business instructor, said the proposed contract was “pigeonholing” faculty because it only allowed maximum advancement for those who achieve a doctorate degree when instructors in fields such as fire science and automotive would have no relevant need for one.
“We are not valuing our own product,” Sullivan said.
Others echoed the sentiment, noting the college was just designated as one of the top 150 community colleges in the country by the Aspen Institute and cutting back on the investment in faculty would send the wrong message to interested candidates.
“Clearly the commitment has paid dividends,” said Justin Hoy, a sociology instructor. “I fear our status as a premier community college is being threatened.”
After more than 100 hours of face-to-face talks between faculty and college negotiation teams, trustees were asked to join the meetings in hopes of facilitating a solution. No trustee has attended the negotiations as has been done in the past.
Trustees thanked the instructors for voicing their concerns and said there was a lot to address. Chairman Ron Parrish ensured the faculty members their presentations would not fall on deaf ears.
“This began as one of the most intimidating groups I ever faced,” Parrish said before thanking those who came for being professional and thoughtful. “ I promise you what you had to say is not going to go ignored.”
Full-time faculty were not the only employees expressing concern about the contract situation.
Adjunct faculty members were concerned college officials failed to sign a memorandum of understanding last week that would have put in writing a verbal agreement between the two sides to allow existing adjunct faculty to work for multiple supervisors and maximize already limited earning power.
Peter Ponzio, president of the adjunct faculty association, gave a passionate presentation and questioned the ethics of the college leadership for failing to live up to promises.
“[Faculty] are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal from this college,” Ponzio said of instructors who have had late reimbursements for expenses and other challenges. “Ethics is at the heart of contract law.”