DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College and its faculty union remain far apart in contract negotiations despite having 27 individual tentative agreements. The two sides have been meeting with state mediators over the last two months.

Contract negotiations was the main topic of conversation at Monday’s monthly SMC board meeting with three faculty members speaking out during the public comment period. Their message was counteracted by comments from two college supporters and SMC President David Mathews.

Longtime faculty member Natalie Anagnos said she feels that the administration has trivialized the needs of the faculty. “We’ve been asked to do more for less and received little in return,” she said. “We’ve been told we’re expendable. This is not about money, but about being valued for our work.”

“We need help, we implore the board to get involved,” she added. “The nature of the administration-faculty relationship shouldn’t be adversarial, but it has become so. Do your homework about other colleges and how they value their faculty.”

Union secretary Robin Shipkowsky noted that SMC’s faculty rank 28th out of 28 community colleges in Michigan in terms of pay. “With our proposal, we would still be 28th out of 28 but we’d be closer to 27th,” she said.

Union President Jeffrey Dennis said union members remain concerned over the faculty’s low pay relative to other community colleges, as well as other issues such as having no faculty pay schedule the last few years and no faculty senate where they can voice concerns about college practices and procedures.

“The college is top heavy with 28 administrators, our faculty has no senate and no way to voice our sentiments,” he said. “The college changed the schedule in 2016 and enrollment declined. These are symptoms of a more fundamental problem that the college leadership doesn’t respect the faculty.”

“Through their actions, the college leadership are indicating that we’re expendable and we’re saying that we’re indispensable to the mission of the college,” he said.

Those speaking in favor of the college, the board and the administration were SMC Foundation President Ginny Crawford, local businessman Dick Judd and former county administrator Louis Csokasy. They all spoke about the college’s value to the community and Mathews’ efforts to balance the budget while still meeting students’ needs.

For his part, Mathews gave a report on the tentative agreements reached since negotiations began nearly a year ago. He noted that the tentative agreements as well as the college’s most recent proposals are available for public view on the website under taxpayer information.

He said the remaining outstanding issues are in the areas of pay and benefits, employment status and management rights.

He noted that faculty members already are paid well, with the base salary for full-time faculty averaging $57,900. With benefits, the average total package was $91,400, with the highest paid faculty getting $142,200. He said the college has proposed and the union rejected an 8 percent pay increase over the first three years of the contract.

He said the college has offered to change faculty from being at-will employees to having multi-year contracts. He said the union refuses to agree to that provision until a wage hike is agreed to.

As for management rights, he said the college has proposed a statement of the “rights of the college,” plus a grievance procedure.

“The college will continue to bargain with the faculty union with the goal of reaching a contract,” he said. “But unless agreement can be reached on all issues, with a contract then ratified by the union membership, Michigan employment law makes clear that the conditions of employment shall remain at the ‘status quo’.”