DOWAGIAC — The Southwestern Michigan College full-time faculty now have a contract in place that gives pay raises and other benefits, following 18 months of negotiations. Faculty union members ratified the contract earlier this month and the SMC board approved it Monday.

The new contract is effective immediately and runs through June 30, 2023. SMC President David Mathews said Tuesday that the agreement provides for minimum salary levels by educational attainment and by faculty rank or years of service.

Faculty will sign individual one-, two- or three-year contracts, depending on their years with the college, he said. For example, first year appointments will be get one-year contracts, second year appointments will get two-year contracts and those with five or more years teaching fulltime at SMC will get three year-contracts.

Mathews said that starting next August, continuing faculty members who are below the stated minimum levels will receive increases of up to 10 percent to reach the minimum levels. Those who have already reached the minimum salary level will receive a 2 percent increase in the 2020-21 year and then 3 percent increases the following two years.

SMC Faculty Association presiding chairman Jeffrey Dennis said the salary minimums approach assures that all faculty will attain appreciable pay thresholds upon hire, as well as after five and eight years of full-time teaching service at the college.

“Faculty who hold advanced credentials receive progressively higher pay thresholds than faculty in the baseline category of a master’s degree or less,” he said. “Most faculty will obtain significant advances in compensation during the three year tenure of the contract. At the least, two, three and three percent annual advances are accorded to those who already receive above the stated threshold.”

Dennis said the SMC Faculty Association is pleased and encouraged by the board’s action Monday to approve the contract. “SMC leadership is to be commended for concluding an agreement amenable and reasonable for all parties concerned,” he said.

He noted that the new contract provides for marked improvement in salary levels and the addition of vision benefits, as well as other items faculty members felt were important. Those items include multi-year terms of employment, binding arbitration and just cause and the assignment of formal assistant, associate and full professor rankings.

Until now, all SMC faculty were officially called “instructors.” The new contract provides for three levels of academic rank: assistant professor for new hires, associate professor at the fifth year of service, and full professor at the eighth year of service.

“Altogether, this contract intimates powerfully the opening of a new chapter in the history of our college,” he said. “The association is rightfully proud of our faculty, highly grateful for the support of the MEA (Michigan Education Association), and sincerely impressed by the balanced and respectful agreement ratified via Dr. Mathews’ recommendation by the SMC board.”

Mathews and SMC board chairman Tom Jerdon expressed similar sentiments about the new contract.

“I can say that both the college administration and the faculty union have invested tremendous time and energy in this process,” Mathews said. “This contract is the result of good-faith bargaining by each side and provides an amicable resolution to all of the issues that were under discussion.”

“This agreement is a fair compromise for both parties,” Jerdon said. “It provides reasonable pay increases and job assurances for faculty while allowing the college to remain financially strong and flexible for the future. It represents good value for the citizen-owners of the College – our local taxpayers – and allows everyone at SMC to continue working together to provide affordable access to high-quality education, putting student success above everything else.”

Faculty voted to unionize in January 2018, citing not only salary concerns but also the college’s failure to listen to them as well as a 2017 decision to lengthen the fall semester from 14 to 16 weeks and shorten the winter break. Negotiations began in June 2018 and included over 20 sessions before state mediation earlier this year.

People will be able to see the full 49-page collective bargaining agreement later this week on the college’s website, in the Taxpayer Information section.