After an eleven-hour bargaining session with administration, the Ithaca College contingent faculty called off their two-day strike — originally slated for Tuesday and Wednesday — on Sunday night.
The negotiation session, which involved members of an I.C. bargaining committee and I.C. administration, addressed much of what the contingent faculty union wanted, according to a member on the bargaining committee who wished to remain anonymous.
These negotiations are a long time coming. According to members of the Ithaca College bargaining committee, the negotiated contract brings a pay increase for part-time faculty and more stable appointments to full-time faculty at the college.
However, the tensions between the faculty and the administration are not all put to rest. Charges with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices still stand, largely referring to Ithaca College firing contingent faculty members after they formed a union in June 2016. Three former contingent professors — who were also active union members — have filed cases through the Cornell Labor Law Clinic, and these cases are still under review with the National Labor Relations Board.
Prof. Rachel Kaufman, writing, Ithaca College, explained that the relation between the failure of I.C. administration to renew contracts with faculty members who were members of the union is the basis of the NLRB charge.
“As I understand, the most active members [of the bargaining committee] were let go,” she said. “To see them be let go so unceremoniously right after they were really active in forming the union — basically that’s what the Law Clinic took a look at.”
Calling Off The Strike
The end of bargaining and the calling a faculty strike at Ithaca College came at the eleventh hour of negotiations.
After 18 months of negotiations with the I.C. administration, the college and the contingent faculty union finally settled on a contract Sunday night at the end of an eleven-hour bargaining session, according to bargaining committee member Prof. Tom Schneller ’08, music, Ithaca College.
I.C. contingent faculty — representing more than 30 percent of the college’s faculty — have spent over a year negotiating a pay increase for part-time faculty and greater job stability for full-time faculty.
The contingent faculty strike, scheduled for March 28 and 29, was a move that was meant to push the administration to concede greater changes in negotiating, according to Kaufman.
Kaufman noted that the union had seen concessions from the administration following a protest held on campus in February, but she said that it was “clearly going to take public pressure to make [the administration] do the right thing.”
“What we’ve seen in bargaining is that the only time that they’ve really had a significant move is after we’ve taken action and put pressure on them — that seems to be what they really respond to,” she added. “We have spent so many months making significant, significant decreases in our pay proposals and making significant concessions in other proposals only to see them just come back with stock no.”
Schneller said the strength of the contingent faculty union and the contract that came out of negotiations could set the tone for colleges and universities across the country.
As colleges rely more and more on contingent labor, Schneller explained, this poses a threat for students interested in entering the academic workforce. The contract that was just negotiated can be a step in changing this trend and thus “a very positive thing,” he said.
“[Students] do not want to go into academia anymore because it is becoming increasingly less likely that you’re actually going to land a tenure-track job,” Schneller added. “So there has to be these protections. The union provides a degree of stability that is really essential for many college [and] university professors across this country.”
Prof. Brody Burroughs, art, Ithaca College, added that community involvement in this process has been significant to reach this point.
“We would never have been able to get this far without all of our allies: the student body, our colleagues at I.C., our community at the Worker’s Center and across the hill over at Cornell,” Burroughs said. “It was really community support on and off campus that really brought the spotlight to the issue that we’re facing.”
Cornell’s Labor Law Clinic and the NLRB
Four Cornell law students are leading the charge in filing the unfair labor practice charges against the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the I.C. contingent faculty bargaining committee.
The students are part of the Cornell Labor Law Clinic, which got involved in the issue in January and is dealing exclusively with the full-time adjunct professors in its legal actions.
Though the bargaining session did discontinue any allegations relating to bargaining, it did not dissolve charges of unfair labor practice, according to Prof. Angela Cornell, law, the supervising lawyer for the Cornell Labor Law Clinic.
“The Labor Law Clinic tackles traditional labor law questions, like the pending charge with the National Labor Relations Board,” Cornell said. “The NLRB is the federal agency charged with enforcing the law that protects workers when they try to organize to improve their terms and conditions of employment.”
According to Cornell, the discrimination charges under the National Labor Relations Act are not being dropped simply because negotiations were reached, and the Board could still proceed with a hearing.
“Depending on how the Board process goes, it could go to a hearing,” she said, adding that if the Board issues agrees with the Labor Law Clinic and issues a complaint, the case could go before an administrative law judge.
Dwight Mitchell, grad, one of the students participating in filing the charges, said that primary complaint of the bargaining committee prior to the bargaining session on Sunday was that the administration was ignoring attempted negotiations.
“[The contingent faculty] formed a union in June 2016, and they began to engage in negotiations,” he said. “We have some professors who have worked at Ithaca College for seven years, and all of the sudden, ‘coincidentally’ after these professors formed a union, the administration did not want to negotiate with them or renew their contracts.”
This was the main provocation for the strike, which was called off after contracts were indeed renewed, according to a member of the bargaining committee who wished to remain anonymous.
“The strike was mainly over having a collective bargaining agreement, a contract that significantly improved the lives of a majority of contingent faculty on campus, and that happened,” the bargaining committee member explained. “However, there are still outstanding issues, which is that the majority of the full-time bargaining unit has not been renewed. … That’s out of the contract, but it’s still a big issue, and that’s why the National Labor Relations Board is still investigating that.”
The bargaining committee member also noted that, though the strike was called off, the I.C. faculty charges against the administration are an ongoing element of this labor struggle.
“The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the fact that the majority of the full-time contingent faculty bargaining committee was let go, which means that their appointments for next year were not renewed,” he said. “It’s our strong belief that this was due to discrimination due to their union activity.”
According to Mitchell, the NLRB could get back to the Labor Law Clinic in a matter of weeks about the unfair labor practice charge, which could proceed to a hearing.
“We’ve taken affidavits of all of our clients and we’re waiting for the determination of the board,” he said. “We’re waiting to hear their determination on the allegations. If they find that our claims have merit, then we’ll proceed to the next steps, which will most likely be a hearing on the case.”
The hearing, according to Mitchell, could lead to remedies paid by the Ithaca College administration. The remedies could range from a website posting about unfair labor practices to reinstating the faculty whose contracts were not reinstated.
“I think we’ve presented enough evidence to support our case,” Mitchell added. “I’m hopeful that we will advance to the next stage, but it’s truly up to the Board at this point. We’ve done our homework and we’ve presented the best case on behalf of our clients.”
The Labor Law Clinic has not formally attempted to reach out to I.C. administration, according to Mitchell, because this is not a component of the process.
“They will have an opportunity to submit a position statement and present their documentary evidence,” Cornell added. “The Board will consider both sides. It’s not a one-sided process. The Board will take their affidavits and review their documents. It’s pretty comprehensive.”
As faculty celebrate the gains they have guaranteed in the contract, they recognize the tremendous work that went into the process, including work still to come in continuing cooperations and processes between faculty and the administration.
“Intense is a good word to describe it,” Burroughs said. “It was not just an eleven-hour session but nearly eighteen months of work on this contract. People like to automatically assume that all of that frustration and work is just one force opposing another but more often than not it’s just trying to hammer out solutions.”