Breaking Update: Agreement reached after CSEA reprise protest outside of Trustee meeting.

A group of classified staff members once again gathered, signs in hand, at the parking lot entrance on 17th and Pico, to protest the May 3 Board of Trustees meeting due to a continuing standstill in negotiations. However, two days later, on May 5, the Corsair has learned that a settlement to the ongoing negotiations has been reached. Before spring break on April 10, The Corsair reported on the protest by the SMC classified staff workers over wage increase negotiations taking place between the Classified staff and the Board of Trustees.

"We are asking for the same thing [3 percent wage increase]. They are offering less than what we asked for," said Mohammad Fakih during the protest. Fakih is a classified staff member who works as a computer maintenance employee at SMC.

Since the prior protest, the Board of Trustees had improved their offer, but they still wouldn't agree to the classified staff's three percent demand.

"We told the district that we would not be accepting their 2.6 percent [offer] plus the $1500 [bonus]," said Robert Villanueva, the president of SMC’s California School Employees Association (CSEA) chapter, who works in the receiving warehouse on campus. "We went back and they declared last and final [offer] and said that we will go to impasse," said Villanueva.

The classified staff held firm on their stance of asking for a 3 percent wage increase. The Board of Trustees countered with a 2.6 percent increase, plus a one-time $1,500 bonus for all classified employees, which the CSEA had rejected. According to Villanueva, the 0.4 percent increase would only cost the school $108,000. On the other hand, the $1,500 bonus for all classified employees, which numbers in excess of 450, will cost the school about $680,000.

"What we are doing now is we are going to impasse. We will have an arbitrator come in and try to move things along since the two sides are at a standstill," said Villanueva on May 3. "Somebody will come in and kind of mediate. They will try to find some medium ground."

According to Villanueva, an impasse was filed April 26, and before the meeting on May 3, campus council notified him that a mediator would be assigned to the case. He said that he believed that by the end of the week the mediator would be in contact with the CSEA, which turned out to be true as a settlement was reached only 48 hours later.

These recent protests from the campus classified staff are not the first time the CSEA workers have had to picket over wage negotiations with the Board of Trustees. Six years ago, they protested over their benefits when discussing the renewal of their contracts which occurs every three years.

"The last time we [picketed] was over benefits," said Villanueva. "They wanted us to pay for a portion of our benefits. Since the faculty didn't and the administrators didn't have to, we didn't think we'd have to."

The Board of Trustees held a closed meeting before their scheduled public meeting to discuss the stalemate between the two sides and decide the stance of the school moving forward in these negotiations. During the public meeting, Chair Louise Jaffe opened by telling the public that there was nothing to report, and confirmed that negotiations were ongoing.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Willis Hartman of the CSEA took the time to admonish the board over the issue. He said, "We are here tonight to ask you to recognize our contributions and compensate us accordingly. In the last 15 years, SMC classified staff's compensation has fallen from above 80th percentile in the state, and is now currently in the low 50th percentile. You do a great job making sure that administrators maintain their status at being compensated in the 90th percentile, but apparently you do not have the same motivation when it comes to the classified staff."

The meeting continued as planned, covering a number of issues, including a proposed Bond measure. During his District Planning and Advisory Council (DPAC) report, Peter Morse of the Faculty Association made a comment on the issue, supporting the staff.

Morse said, "When employee groups are attempting to negotiate reasonable raises, we frequently hear that the district can't afford such raises. I'd like to stress that budgeting is about stressing priorities. Month after month on the board agendas there are items that are new, large monetary outlays, or cost overruns. These are previously un-budgeted items and expenses, and yet they almost always pass without comment or opposition. I would hope that the faculty and employee groups could feel that they are priorities as well."

In response, the board began asking DPAC members, including Morse, what they could do to ensure that faculty and staff felt valued. Trustee member Nancy Greenstein followed this by thanking the classified staff employees for their consistent service before SMC Superintendent President Dr. Kathryn Jeffery commented on the issue.

Jeffery spoke about a number of emails she had received on the issue before she said, "Although we have not reached a point yet in the negotiation process where we can put a period at the end of a sentence, I think it's important for you to know that the deliberations have been thoughtful . . . we're trying to be very deliberative for reasons that relate not just to the CSEA, but the college as a whole from a financial and fiscal perspective."

After the meeting ended, Jaffe declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations due to privacy restrictions placed on private board meetings. However, she did indicate that reasons an agreement had not been reached were related to budgetary limitations.

However in a late-breaking turn of events, it turned out that negotiations were reached a mere 36 hours after the Trustees meeting ended. An agreement was reached on the morning of Thursday, May 5.

"We both kind of compromised. They came up a little, we went down," said Villanueva, who explained that the final agreement came out to a 2.8% increase with a $1000 bonus for each of the CSEA staff members.

When asked about the resolution finally being reached, Villanueva said that the classified staff was happy with the results. He said, "I think our negotiating team is very happy with that mark. [The classified staff are] all quite happy. I'm happy that the district came back to the table, and we're very happy that this didn't have to get to an impasse."