Faculty's demand for higher wages
The public comment session during the Board of Trustees meeting on May 9 was animated by the passionate speeches of a dozen of Santa Monica College classified workers who united in an effort to negotiate their contract and obtain the salary raise they believe is vital in order to keep up with the increasing cost of living.
Two years after many SMC staff and faculty members were laid off to decrease the budget deficit, finances are almost back on the right track and so are the classified workers - who now demand a long-awaited fair contract, including a readjustment of salary over the past three years, as well as more opportunities for workers to be rehired as part-time employees.
"We are tired of the administration dragging their feet," said Lantz Simpson, who is the president of the SMC Faculty Association, which represents the college's instructors. "We want action."
Before stepping inside the boardroom, classified staff workers met for a pizza party, where they regrouped and shared their enthusiasm about negotiating with the trustees for the first time to settle their contract.
The board's new trustees Suzanne Aminoff and Rob Rader have invigorated some workers' expectation for promising changes in their condition.
"It's exciting to new board members to bring new energy to this old problem," said hopeful Jo Kidd, who had been working for 39 years for the recreation program before it was discontinued recently.
"I though some of the comments were very moving, for instance when some said that the college was like a family. This feeling is mutual," said new trustee Rader about the heartfelt words of Sasha Agard, when she asked the board to "please bring your family together." Rader added that he sincerely hopes they will reach a "satisfactory resolution."
Becky Curtis, who is an English professor as well as the chair of the Hourly Faculty Association, explains that many part-time employees have had to take two or more jobs to earn a decent salary, even though they are as qualified as full-time faculty.
"The more people who speak, the more powerful the message," stated one of the guidelines contained on a sheet circulating during the party, which aimed at encouraging workers to speak out, as well as provide them with ideas for their speech.
However, most workers seemed eager to express their frustration before the trustees and did not need to be asked twice to speak out.
Staff and faculty members argued that they deserve to be considered as a valuable and integral part of the college since they have been working consistently toward its regrowth and truly care about the students.
"I am asking you to look into your heart and give the hardworking class a long overdue pay increase...and show your appreciation for the hard work they have accomplished," Willis Barton said in his emotional speech.
"The board has no regard for the staff," said Carl Gettleman, president of the Classified Senate, after the meeting. "It's just straight work warfare."
Even though some workers remain skeptical about the outcome of the meeting, others like Lee Peterson, the former Classified Senate president, have faith in the trustees' intention to give them a fair contract when the time comes.
"I am convinced that the district will get back to us after the state budget is signed," said Peterson, referring to the funds allocated by the Legislature and Governor to the California Community Colleges system in the annual state budget.