When we first proposed a contract extension in April 2011, our goal was to save jobs and bring stability to the campus. In exchange, we offered financial concessions worth at least $4 million, an amount that would have compounded significantly as time went on. The Board of Trustees (BOT) understood that and yet they kept stringing us along, consistently coming to meetings unprepared and refusing to make any serious counterproposals. Finally, in September of this year, negotiations broke down completely. A sticking point was the Administration and BOT’s insistence on nullifying the job protection language found in our contract. The only logical conclusion, then, is that they were after something more than the purely “financial relief” BOT chair Geoffrey Prime talked about in his November 20th statement. Indeed, if you listen to that statement closely, you begin to see the outlines of what that “something more” might be.
Rhetorically, Mr. Prime’s words attempt to accomplish at least these four things:
- Erase the fact of the Board’s tactics by asserting that both sides were equally involved in negotiations;
- Suggest that our wage increases were (and are) the only possible source of “financial relief” for the college and that “financial relief,” defined as a simple matter of arithmetic, is the Board’s only concern;
- Paint us as obstructionist because we are unwilling to violate our own bylaws and begin full-blown negotiations according to the Board’s agenda;
- Claim the moral high ground by appealing to our “common goal” of providing our students with a high quality, affordable education.
The only one of these four points that has an echo of truth in it is the last one. Of course we believe in the mission of this institution. Indeed, to say that we are Nassau Community College’s heart and soul is not hyperbole. On a daily basis—in the library and student help centers, the Academic Senate and departmental committees, in financial aid and admissions, in ITS and our classes—we’re the ones who make sure NCC delivers the kind of education our students come here to claim. That’s why not one of the cost-saving measures we proposed, at great cost and sacrifice to our members, would have required a single cut in student support services or course sections and why, had they been implemented soon enough, those measures would have kept more full-time faculty in the classroom.
When the Board of Trustees not only failed to respond with a serious counterproposal of any kind, but also had Mr. Gross summarily announce their intention to go after our job security, they demonstrated both their lack of respect for the commitment we have shown and the very low value they place on the work we do. Mr. Prime’s suggestion that we are now the ones holding up negotiations only adds insult to this injury, as does the fact that his statement frames those negotiations in purely financial terms. When Donald Astrab was president, he used our financial difficulties as a smokescreen for his attempts to gut our contract and dismantle faculty governance. He too talked about our “shared commitment” to delivering a quality education, even as he tried to hobble the academic senate and undermine tenure (among other things). We won a partial victory when we persuaded the BOT to restore most of the Academic Senate-related reassigned time, and we won a huge victory when PERB ruled in our favor earlier this year, but nowhere in Mr. Prime’s November 20th statement is there even a hint that he and the board really understand what we were fighting for and why. Instead, just like Donald Astrab, he asserts that it’s all about an ostensibly value-neutral bottom line.
We are, in other words, still fighting the same fight, but this time, when we meet the administration and Board of Trustees at the negotiating table, a great deal more than our proposed extension will be at stake. That’s why we cannot relent in the pressure we have been applying. They have to understand that we are not going anywhere; that we believe in what we do, even if they do not, and that we are willing to fight for it as hard and as long as we have to.