Collective Bargaining at Community Colleges: A Report from California

By Rubiales, David M. | Academe, November/December 1998 | Go to article overview

Collective Bargaining at Community Colleges: A Report from California


Rubiales, David M., Academe


COLLECTIVE BARGAINING IN CALIFORNIA'S community colleges is now over two decades old; for most of that time, I have been in the center of the storm, either as a faculty negotiator or as president of a faculty association. When I was asked to write about collective bargaining in the state's community colleges, I first had to consider whether bargaining in two-year colleges actually differs from that in four-year institutions. I initially thought to myself that bargaining is bargaining, regardless of the type of institution. Compensation issues, such as salary and fringe benefits, are not, after all, unique to one segment of higher education or another, and the dynamics and techniques of negotiating a contract apply nearly uniformly across institutions.

But bargaining is not confined to monetary issues; there's more to it than what occurs at the table. In the end, a bargained contract defines an institution and reflects its faculty, administration, and governing authority. To look at a contract is, in effect, to gain a profile of the institution. Community colleges are in some ways historically unique; they are, for example, charged with vocational training as well as academic education, and their focus is on serving the local community. Collective bargaining in community colleges, whether in California or elsewhere, must therefore differ in some respects from bargaining at four-year colleges. History of Bargaining

ALL BUT ONE OF CALIFORNIA'S COMMUNITY COLLEGES engage in collective bargaining. Together, these colleges make up the largest system of higher education in the United States. Seventy distinct districts administer 108 colleges and dozens of "centers" at locations such as military bases, shopping malls, and urban storefronts; more collective bargaining occurs within this system than anywhere else in American higher education. The Rodda Act, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 1976, introduced collective bargaining to California's community colleges. Written by a state senator who had taught at Sacramento City College, the act defined the major bargaining units-faculty, classified support staff, and administrators-and specified the parameters of bargaining. Contracts were limited to three years. Working conditions, compensation, and hiring and layoff procedures were negotiable, but curriculum was not; it remained within the domain of academic senates and administrations. The exclusion of curricular issues from bargaining initially divided community college faculty. Those who disdained or disavowed bargaining established themselves in the academic senates.

For several years, the senates were weak compared with the unions, which exercised power through enforcement of the negotiated contract. But reform legislation passed over ten years ago gave significant new powers to the senates, including control of curriculum committees. Since then, senates and unions have worked out a power-sharing arrangement that is much less divisive, although most observers would probably agree that the unions remain the dominant faculty voice in California's community colleges. Bargaining is still where the action is, and most faculty continue to look to the bargained contract for definition of their profession and their role in the academy. A Local Institution

THE SPECIFIC CULTURE OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES-AT least in California-has shaped the bargaining process. Perhaps the most important characteristic of community colleges is their focus on the local community. The community college is, by definition and perhaps even by intent, parochial. The students are local, the governing trustees are locally elected, and most of the faculty and administrators are products of the graduate departments of nearby universities. As a result, collective bargaining in the California community college always takes place in a local landscape rather than in the state capital or the urban headquarters of a statewide system. When 80 percent of the tenured faculty at Yuba College, where I work, walked out on the first day of the fall 1995 semester to protest bad-faith bargaining by the college's board of trustees, our union, the Yuba College Faculty Association, which is affiliated with the AAUP, launched a media campaign directed at local newspapers and television and radio stations. …

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