By Audrey Garces
With the hope of providing a ‘wake-up call’ to the San Francisco Community College District, the president of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 2121 announced on March 10 union members voted 92 percent in favor of authorizing the union’s executive board to call for a strike.
“Today we stand united for a strong City College—for the community, for students, for faculty,” AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly said during a press conference outside of the Chinatown Center.
City College faculty have been working without a contract for now nine months. The union maintains faculty are being paid 3.5 percent below their 2007 wages, and meanwhile, the Bay Area cost-of-living keeps rising.
AFT 2121 and the District are currently in the midst of a mediation process. Although details of the most recent negotiations meetings must remain confidential, Killikelly called the District’s proposals in past sessions “unacceptable.”
However, the San Francisco Examiner reported on Feb. 25 that City College administrators called the strike authorization vote ‘premature.’
“Deciding to take a strike vote before we have even gone through fact-finding—the next stage in the process—signals a disheartening lack of receptiveness to finding a resolution,” an Employee Relations Office letter dated March 2 stated.
With over 800 ballots cast between Feb. 25 and March 8, the union experienced its highest turnout ever.
“People need education, they want education. We want to provide it,” said Kate Frei, a part-time ESL instructor. “The resources are there, it’s time for them to give us the resources.”
Killikelly and other union members also voiced their concerns regarding the District’s proposed 26 percent cuts to classes over the next six years.
City College’s current status of ‘show cause’—where the college must prove it meets accreditation standards by this fall—has resulted in a significant enrollment drop over the past few years. The District is expected to face a $24 million funding decrease per year once state Sen. Mark Leno’s funding stability bill ends in 2018.
“We’re committed to finding a way to reach an agreement, but it must be done while recognizing that the college’s enrollment is significantly smaller,” the District stated in a press release responding to the vote results.
Killikelly pointed out San Francisco is growing, and with it, so should opportunities for students at City College.
“We have gotten support from students all around City College; they voted unanimously at the Ocean Campus to support our efforts for a fair contract,” Killikelly said.
Lu Marla Dea, ESL faculty member, believed downsizing the college will have the biggest impact on students and the community.
“How is it in the interest of students and the community to not have competitive salaries for faculty?” Killikelly questioned.
Both the union and the District understand a strike is not ideal.
“A strike will have a severe impact on our students by disrupting class schedules, graduation, and possibly their ability to transfer to four-year institutions,” the District said.
Union members reiterated during the press conference that faculty have not taken the strike authorization vote lightly.
“We still hope that the District understands how serious we are. We do not want to go on strike unless we need to,” Killikelly said. “We understand that strikes have consequences for everybody.”
In anticipation of a strike, the union voted last September to increase dues and form a Strike Hardship Fund Committee to appropriate grants and offer interest-free loans to financially vulnerable faculty members.
Killikelly chose not to discuss a specific date or time frame for the potential strike.
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