39 Months of Purgatory: Will City College rehire laid off faculty in impacted departments?
By Renée Bartlett-Webber
In an interview for an article about the impact of faculty layoffs, Broadcast Electronic Media Arts (BEMA) Department Chair Dana Jae Labrecque told The Guardsman, “on the last day of school in spring 2022, the chancellor called an emergency meeting where he said that you will not be able to bring back your full-time faculty for 39 months.” She explained that the chancellor’s lawyer recommended this restriction to avoid any lawsuits from laid-off faculty.
However, there is nothing in the law that prohibits hiring in a department after a layoff, except that the full-time employees who were laid off must be prioritized for reemployment within each department for 39 months after the layoff. The full-time employees must take precedence over any part-time hiring/rehiring.
As part of a 10-hour trustee board meeting on March 23, Chancellor David Martin presented a status update of laid-off positions. Of the 92 full-time employees who were laid off last year, eight faculty were recalled. After lengthy discussion, Martin clarified that no positions were actually reinstated and all were still “permanently removed from the budget.” Those eight people who were recalled, replaced faculty who had recently retired. “When those faculty retired, we would have otherwise removed those positions permanently from the budget. But we did not. We kept those positions in and pulled somebody from the 39-month hire list,” he said.
AFT 2121 Vice President Alan D’Souza told The Guardsman, “there were actually two very sad layoffs, both people were offered recall, but they declined.” They had received “pink slips” twice before. “Why would they come back?” he asked rhetorically.
During the 2021-2022 school year, faculty accepted a 10% cut to their salaries to stave off layoffs. Despite this, faculty layoffs were implemented at the very end of the same fiscal year. Now, the audit for that year shows that there was over a $9 million surplus. “AFT is going to ask for 100% of the salaries for faculty. And the monetary justification for layoffs is invalid. The reasonable ask is to rehire and lift the embargo,” D’Souza said.
While no classified positions have been recalled, there are currently 25 net new positions. These positions are not in the same categories as ones that had been eliminated, therefore laid-off employees were not offered recall. Martin also confirmed that many classified workers are transferring to the city because City College is “several percentage points behind” in compensation. Maria Salazar-Colón, president of the SEIU 1021, who represents the classified workers at City College, declined an interview.
Both students and faculty have expressed hardships due to the layoffs. In the March 23 board meeting at least five students appealed to the board to bring back teachers so they could complete their certificates or degrees. “Please please please, we need our teacher back,” deplored one student of floristry, now a department of one. D’Souza also noted that “cases have been made by every department that seems like they have a reasonable impact to allow rehiring, but it’s not reasonable enough for the chancellor.”
Several trustee members have advocated for the reconsideration of the “permanently removed” positions. Vick Van Chung addressed the board, “we have the actuals of what was left over in reserves, now let’s take that money and put it back into departments so we can grow it, in a very specific and strategic manner.” Board President Alan Wong said “it’s devastating that the layoffs happened… We should definitely be working to bring back our employees.” He would like to see training for workers to switch to the fields that now have open positions.
Despite some board members’ expressed support for recalling many of the laid-off employees, their power to do so is limited. “If the board were to take action without a recommendation from the chancellor, I do believe it would violate current board policies” and “accreditation standards,” the chancellor said.
For the moment all eliminated positions from layoffs remain as such and have not been built into the budget for the foreseeable future. Those who were laid off, have a chance of recall within the 39 months only if there are resignations/retirements in their departments or if the budget changes. Until then, it seems impacted departments will have to wait the 39 months to add any full-time or part-time positions.