Columbia College Part-Time Staff Strike As Labor Negotiations Wear On
Part-time teachers and faculty at Columbia College Chicago, tired of dealing with what they see as attacks from administration on their academic freedom during ongoing labor negotiations, walked off the job on Wednesday.
Scores of students and members of the Columbia’s Part‐Time Faculty Association (P‐fac) clogged the sidewalk outside the college’s 600 South Michigan Avenue headquarters to announce a two‐day strike, citing myriad reasons from bargaining and labor violations to low wages and dwindling job security.
“Today is the start,” P-fac President Diana Vallera said.
“With 89 percent of P-fac voters calling for a strike. With faculty uniting with students and with so many in the Chicago community and around the country supporting us as we say ’stop’ to Columbia College. Stop degrading our students’ education. Stop bargaining in bad faith. Stop trying to render us as disposable faculty.”
P-fac’s strike is schedule to last through Thursday – almost three months to the day since their previous contract with CCC expired.
The move comes as part-time faculty members remain locked in negotiations with Columbia administration over a new contract.
They’ve also called out fashion studies officials following an internal review last year that suggested the school was diversifying the department’s predominantly white female teaching staff by removing some faculty who were “older than 50.” A CCC spokeswoman told Chicago Tonight last November that description had been either “misunderstood or willfully distorted” by P-fac.
While the union says a proposal brought forth by the college will eliminate protections for their job security and paid sick days, school officials contend they are only doing what’s in the best interest of their students.
“Columbia remains available to sit down with the union and mediator to continue bargaining to bring about an amicable and quick resolution. Our next bargaining session is scheduled for this Friday, December 1,” CCC spokesman Mark Rosati said in a statement.
“The continued delivery of a high‐quality educational experience for our students is our top priority, both in our operations and in union negotiations.”
They say they’re not trying to disqualify or remove experienced part-time faculty, but instead want to begin using “other measures of experience” like real-world know-how to gauge teachers’ qualifications.
Earlier this month, the college offered a contract proposal that included salary increases for staff, according to Rosati, but they have not yet gotten a response from the union. It has also sought to bring in a federal mediator to move negotiations along, but P-fac has declined. He added the college is committed to finalizing a deal that will be acceptable both to administration and faculty.
P-fac members were joined at their rally Wednesday by representatives from a host of other labor and union organizations, including Arise Chicago, Jobs With Justice and SAG-AFTRA – whose membership base includes journalists at Chicago Tonight.
Also present was Chicago Teachers Union attorney Robert Bloch and Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who spoke in favor of the work stoppage.
“I want to say that the CTU is an organization that knows a little something about how to strike, how to demonstrate, how to march and how to make our voices heard,” Sharkey said. “In your quest for democratic education, you can count on the full support of the 25,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union.”
College buildings will remain open both Wednesday and Thursday, and regular operations will continue. Students are asked to go to class – even if their instructor is not present – and wait at least 15 minutes before leaving.
But many instead joined the rally Wednesday in support of faculty, levying their own complaints against administration over a 2-percent tuition hike and elective courses that aren’t offered every semester.
“We’re hoping to send a message to the administration that students and the faculty are united,” P-fac member Deb Doetzer said. “That was an important part of getting the students involved. And that there are certain things we’re not going to tolerate.”
Nov. 29, 2016: A proposed overhaul of the fashion studies curriculum at Columbia College Chicago has upset some students and part-time faculty, who’ve criticized what they see as a move away from strictly manufacturing and design courses toward a more marketing- and business-focused program.
Oct. 13, 2016: The United Educators of UNO plans to strike next week if it cannot come to terms on a new labor agreement with the UNO Charter School Network.
Oct. 11, 2016: A strike by Chicago Teachers Union members has been averted after the union reached a tentative agreement with Chicago Public Schools and the Board of Education.