DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College and its faculty union have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract to run through June 2023. Details of the proposed agreement won’t be divulged until after the union votes next week and the board votes on Nov. 18, SMC President David Mathews said Wednesday.
Mathews reported that the two sides held a negotiation session Monday and hammered out the final outstanding issues standing in the way of a new contract. If no agreement had been reached Monday, they would have met with a fact finder later this week.
Mathews said he cannot comment on details of the new contract, but did say that it will take effect immediately once it’s ratified, and run through June 30, 2023.
“I can say that both the college administration and the faculty union have invested tremendous time and energy in this process,” he said. “This tentative agreement is the result of good-faith bargaining by each side and provides an amicable resolution to all of the issues that were under discussion.”
According to union President Jeffrey Dennis, “Faculty are pleased by the good will demonstrated towards the Association by Dr. Mathews and the administrative team, especially during the last several negotiation sessions. Altogether, we look forward to the beginning of a new era for our college, with administration and faculty working together to advance the educational mission of SMC.”
Dennis added that members will vote on the pact Nov. 6-8. “We are confident and pleased in the tentative agreements concluded on October 28th,” he said.
Mathews noted that the two sides have met numerous times over the last year and a half. The first session was held June 27, 2018 and he said they had more than 20 bargaining sessions before a state mediator came in for four sessions. Both sides asked for mediation from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in April.
He said they then had an informal session with a state fact finder, who encouraged the two sides to return to the negotiating table since they were close to an agreement. The college and the union met twice in October.
Mathews told SMC board members last week that the last unresolved issue centered around wages. He said there had been 13 outstanding issues going into the mid-October meeting and all but the salary issue were resolved.
SMC full-time faculty voted to form a union in January 2018, citing 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. Union members said the longer term put the college out of step with other area colleges. The college went back to the shorter 14 week semester length this fall.
As for salaries, union representatives maintained as late as this summer that SMC faculty pay ranked among the lowest of all community colleges around the state. In June, Mathews countered that the average total salary and benefits package for full-time faculty was $91,400 with most faculty working a total of 125 days a year on a four-day-a-week teaching schedule.