P-fac Wins Appeal Before Labor Board; College Ordered to Pay Adjuncts’ Back Wages and Cost of Negotiations

In a major victory for P-fac, the National Labor Relations Board ruled over the weekend that Columbia College Chicago violated federal labor law in 2010 and 2011 when it unilaterally reduced the number of credit hours for 10 courses. The college refused for several months to engage in any negotiations at all, which the NLRB also found violated federal labor law

The NLRB found the college’s actions were so egregious that it ordered Columbia to pay P-fac’s negotiating expenses.

P-fac President Diana Vallera welcomed the decision. “This is a great day for us and for all unions because it shows managers that they cannot suddenly and arbitrarily decide to make changes that harm employees,” she said. “The decision also means that our members will be reimbursed for the damage they suffered at the hands of Columbia administrators.”

The credit hour issue is directly related to the wages of members, the NLRB found. P-fac’s contract with the college stipulates that adjuncts are paid for each hour of courses they teach. All adjuncts who taught the formerly three-credit courses received pay cuts when their hours were cut, the NLRB ruled.

The college had cited a provision in the contract that says administrators have the right “to plan, establish, terminate, modify and implement all aspects of educational policies and practices, including curricula; admission and graduation requirements and standards; scheduling; academic calendar; student discipline; and the establishment, expansion, subcontracting, reduction, modification, alteration, combination or transfer of any job, department, program, course, institute or other academic or nonacademic activity and the staffing of the activity, except as may be modified by this agreement.”

Columbia administrators said this provision gave the college the power to change credit hours. The NLRB, however, ruled that changing credit hours for courses was a direct change to wages and couldn’t be viewed as managerial discretion.

The college tried to change credit hours without bargaining, and that is not its right, the board ruled.

The NLRB ordered the college to take a number of steps, including resuming negotiations on the issue, paying faculty members who lost wages as a result of the changes and paying the union’s negotiating expenses.

Finally, the board said the college had not bargained with the union in good faith, had withdrawn earlier offers made at the negotiating table and had bargained regressively

The decision has already drawn nationwide attention.

William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, located at Hunter College of the City University of New York, told Inside Higher Ed that the NLRB decision is significant in that it “highlights the legal principle that a college can be obligated to negotiate, upon demand, the impact of a decision even when that decision falls under the ambit of managerial discretion.”

Herbert also said the penalty imposed by the NLRB is likely to make others take note. “Requiring the reimbursement of negotiating costs is not a traditional remedy in unfair labor practice cases,” he said.

The board also said Columbia violated federal labor law by eliminating course assignments for part-time faculty in the photography department. Also, the board said the college violated federal labor law by investigating Vallera on allegations of misconduct and by notifying her that disciplinary action was forthcoming because of her statements about alleged surveillance at her home. The college also failed to assign Vallera more than one class section for the fall 2012 semester, the board said.

To read the NLRB decision, go to:

http://apps.nlrb.gov/link/document.aspx/09031d4582053bd7

For further information, email P-fac at info@pfac.

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