DOWAGIAC — After months of negotiations have failed to produce a new contract with the college’s full-time faculty, Southwestern Michigan College officials are asking for mediation.

SMC President David Mathews reported this week that on April 5 the college requested mediation services from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. He said their hope is that the mediator can help both sides reach an agreement.

A majority of full-time faculty voted to unionize in January 2018. The union effort began the previous year when concerns were raised regarding issues ranging from changes to the college schedule to disclosures about Mathews’ compensation package, as compared to faculty pay.

College officials instituted changes to the college schedule in 2017 that lengthened the fall semester and shortened the winter break to keep the calendar more in line with high school calendars. It was also learned in 2017 that Mathews had an annual compensation package worth $325,000, while faculty pay was among the lowest in the state.

Mathews said this week that union negotiations have produced more than 20 tentative agreements on specific issues, but have not produced an overall agreement. He said three negotiation sessions have been scheduled for April and another four for May.

He declined to give specifics about what issues are outstanding but said they include both financial and non-financial items. He said both sides have a goal of getting a contract in place later this spring or in the summer.

Union representatives said Thursday that they welcome mediation assistance from MERC. “While we have certainly been able to reach tentative agreements on certain key issues facing the college, such as an academic calendar which previously put us out of step with other colleges in the region, there are still major concerns that we believe will only be solved with outside assistance,” the union said in a statement.

This week’s monthly SMC board meeting also featured discussion of the board’s recent annual long range planning session held in late March, as well as updates to the college’s facilities master plan.

The college’s master plan was last updated in 2015. Mathews reported that Arvin Delacruz of Abonmarche presented a virtual tour of both the Dowagiac and Niles campuses with a review of all the buildings.

Mathews said that the focus in coming months will be on continued improvements to the Niles campus as well as upgrades to the Zollar building on the Dowagiac campus. The Niles campus work is in the sixth and final phase and includes putting in higher efficiency lighting and making aesthetic upgrades to the M-TEC center.

The Zollar building was expanded nearly 10 years ago to create the Student Activity Center. He said some of the original under floor drainage pipes from the 1970s have to be replaced and the college is using the opportunity to make other improvements. They include adding a couple of treadmills and providing more space to cardio training and free weights.

Mathews said college officials will be working this summer to decide how to renovate the Lyons building on the Dowagiac campus next year. 

Upgrades will include mechanical work on heating and air conditioning and lighting, as well as reallocating building space set aside for nursing and arts and sciences faculty in recent years.