With contract disputes settled, classes start at BTC

Classes at Bellingham Technical College were in session Monday, Sept. 30, after college administrators reached tentative agreements with faculty and staff unions on new contracts.

The Bellingham Education Association, the college’s faculty union, declared a strike on Sept. 24, the first scheduled day of class at BTC, seeking cost-of-living pay increases, better defined workloads and protection against a strategic-enrollment monitoring system recently instituted by the college that teachers considered to be unreasonable surveillance.

Faculty members were joined by the college’s support staff union, the Bellingham Education Support Team, in their work stoppage. Although support staff was not officially on strike, they agreed to honor the faculty’s picket and did not work.

The new contracts are set to be fully ratified by the college’s board of trustees on Monday evening, after which details will be available on BTC’s website, according to the college.

BTC officials scrambled last week to find ways to help students unable to collect financial-aid disbursements, which by federal law cannot be awarded if class is not in session.

The BTC Foundation set up an emergency fund to award temporary grants to students on financial aid needing help with living expenses. The college’s financial aid office also offered letters for students to give to landlords or other relevant parties, explaining the situation and asking for leniency on timely payments.

Contract negotiations between the college and the unions had been going on for nearly a year. Mediators from the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission  were brought in as the start of the new school year approached and agreements had yet to be reached.

Just hours after the faculty union declared its strike, BTC officials attempted to get an injunction from Whatcom County Superior Court to order teachers to return to work, arguing that the strike was illegal and hurt students. Court Commissioner Fred Heydrich agreed, but he refused to force faculty back to work, telling both sides to continue negotiations in good faith.

The strike was the first public-college faculty strike in Washington state since 1988, according to records from the Washington Education Association, which acts as a parent group to BTC’s faculty union.

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com.


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