CCBC union issues appeal

Teachers ask board for recognition of group

`Fairness, Input, Respect'

Trustees chair says action would require new law

December 11, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Faculty members of the Community College of Baltimore County packed a meeting of its board of trustees last night asking for recognition of their newly formed union.

But the chairman of the board, Francis X. Kelly, said the board does not have the authority to recognize the union. He said state legislation would be necessary.

More than 70 percent of the college's 360 full-time faculty members have signed cards authorizing the union - an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers - to represent them in collective bargaining, union leaders said.

About 100 people attended last night's meeting, holding signs with messages including "Fairness, Input, Respect."

The move comes in response to an array of concerns at CCBC's campuses in Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville, said Regina Shea, a union leader and associate professor of accounting at the Essex campus. At the top of the list, she said, is the concern that teachers have lost their voice in decision-making in recent years.

She said teachers are upset about recent changes to their health benefits that in some cases required them to switch doctors, and want to see the "inordinate amount of time" they spend on administrative paperwork reduced. She said they also want to revisit the issues of tenure and job security.

Tenure was abolished for new faculty in the mid-1990s. As a result, Shea said, "We've become a revolving door for faculty. They're afraid to speak up. They're afraid to take a 30-year mortgage and put roots down in this state because they never know when they're going to be terminated."

Kelly said he was "blindsided" by the show of force at the meeting. He said Baltimore County, not the board, made the benefits changes, and revisiting tenure is not realistic at this time. Nevertheless, he said the board will promptly address issues of morale and faculty participation in the college's governance.

"It's very disillusioning to hear that we don't care," he said, adding that faculty compensation has long been the board's top priority.

Letter of opposition

Chancellor Irving P. McPhail wrote an open letter to the faculty last month expressing opposition to a faculty union, saying it would stifle diverse opinions.

Nationally, fewer than half of states have laws allowing community college faculties to unionize, said Michael Mauer, director of organizing and services for the American Association of University Professors. In some states that have a legal framework, such as California and New York, unionization is nearly complete, Mauer said.

Maryland has neither a law allowing faculty unionizing nor one prohibiting it. Of Maryland's 16 community colleges, only Montgomery County's has a recognized faculty union, formed in 1980 after legislation was passed to authorize its creation. Union leaders say the Baltimore County union does not need to seek similar legislation. Kelly disagreed.

Faculty members at community colleges in Prince George's County and Hagerstown have also discussed unionizing. The Prince George's effort failed for lack of faculty support, and Hagerstown's failed to win legislative support, said Tony Kinkel, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

Budget woes

The push at CCBC for union recognition comes amid budget cuts and increased demands on faculty at community colleges across Maryland, Kinkel said. Maryland's community colleges are getting about 11 percent less per student than they did two years ago, as enrollment continues to grow.

"The budget cuts have forced our faculty to do a lot more with less and significantly raised class sizes," Kinkel said. "The real issue is, we've got to get the faculty the resources they need."

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