Instead of classrooms, faculty at Bellingham Technical College are spending their first week back at school in picket lines.
The faculty’s union, the Bellingham Education Association, declared a strike on Tuesday, Sept. 24, the first scheduled day of fall classes at the college. Negotiations between the union and BTC administrators have so far failed to settle a contract dispute that had stretched nearly a year.
The same day the strike was declared, Whatcom County Superior Court Commissioner Fred Heydrich denied an injunction sought by BTC that would have ordered faculty members to end their strike and return to work. Heydrich has urged both sides to reach an agreement on their own , or expect to return to court next Monday, Sept. 30.
Faculty members say there are three key issues they believe have not been adequately addressed by BTC: salary increases, properly defined workloads and safeguards against a strategic-enrollment monitoring system recently instituted by the college, which teachers liken to employee surveillance.
Union leaders seek an across-the-board pay raise for faculty and support staff, in addition to stipend increases.
BTC has made several offers that include pay increases, but the sides remain at odds on specifics.
Faculty members have set up a website (www.btcfacultyvoice.org) offering further details on their contract requests.
College officials are also posting updates online.
Mediators from the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission have been assisting the talks. BTC said on Wednesday, Sept. 25, that the state mediators would schedule the next bargaining session.
“We continue to be hopeful that these two groups will come together to reach an agreement and classes will resume,” Patricia McKeown, BTC’s president, wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to the campus community. “We also remain firmly resolved to maintain the college’s financial stability; we owe that to our students, staff and community.”
Rich Wood, an organizer with the Washington Education Association, a parent group of BTC’s faculty union, said he thinks the college should honor its teachers’ request for cost-of-living pay increases.
“The fact is that [faculty salaries] have been stagnant, unlike administrative salaries,” Wood said on Monday, Sept. 23, before the strike was declared. “The college has both the money, and also, I would say, the responsibility and obligation to address the faculty’s salaries in this contract.”
The college’s classified staff union, the Bellingham Education Support Team, is also negotiating a new contract with BTC administrators.
Classes at the college remain on hiatus.
BTC’s quarterly attendance averages about 3,000 students, according to the college. Students who receive federal financial aid will not be able to collect their fall disbursements until classes are back in session, according to federal rules.
The school employs 176 faculty members. Roughly six out of every 10 work part-time.
BTC has opened some of its service offices, allowing students to register, pay for classes and meet with advisers. The school’s bookstore and library are also open.
“Our big thing is to really bring this to resolution,” said Marni Saling Mayer, BTC’s director of communications. “We’re trying to be there for our students.”
Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.