College faculty charges misuse of funds in union organization effort

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(Host) Pro-union faculty at the Community College of Vermont say the college has gone too far in fighting their efforts to organize.

With one day left before the voting deadline, the teachers held a press conference in Montpelier today.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Community College of Vermont is the only institution in the state college system whose instructors don’t have a union.

It’s also the only college that relies exclusively on part-time faculty. Administrators say part time arrangements allow each of the college’s 12 locations to respond to local needs. It also lets them tap the knowledge of community artists and experts who have other jobs.

But union organizer Catherine O’Callaghan says that flexibility is really a revolving door that isn’t good for faculty or students.

(O’Callaghan) “You have faculty who have no paid office hours, no phone and email access, no formal and consistent mechanism for input into the curriculum. We have no job security, no transparency in knowing how or when we will be hired, no access to health insurance, no recognition for experience, no retirement contribution. You know, it’s not a working model for good education.”

(Keese) O’Callaghan is part of a group that’s been working for two years to join the United Professions of Vermont and American Federation of Teachers. The Union represents the rest of the state system.

O’Callaghan and other union advocates used the press conference to accuse CCV of misusing public education and tuition money to fight the union.

She says the college leadership sent out several glossy mailings and launched an elaborate website to promote anti-union views.

(O’Callaghan) “And most distressing to me and members of the organizing committee was that they had staff members call faculty at home and email them at home encouraging them to vote no’. The people that hire us are the coordinators. And to have a coordinator call you at home, I don’t need to explain the power dynamic there in the sense of asking you to vote no on a campaign like this.”

(Keese) But CCV president Tim Donovan says the mailings weren’t glossy. Donovan says the college only spent about $2,500 out of pocket on its campaign.

In terms of staff time….

(Donovan) “In almost all cases it means that those of us involved in this worked more than they were working. It is responsible for the college to be sure that there is a mechanism by which the instructors can communicate with each other and their votes are informed. But the unions put a lot of time into this as well.”

(Keese) Donovan says academic coordinators who shared opinions with instructors were specifically told not to threaten, make promises or retaliate.

But O’Callaghan says some teachers believe they weren’t asked back this year because they had union sympathies. They’re discussing whether to file charges of unfair labor practices.

Four hundred and sixty-four part time teachers are eligible to vote in the election. The results will be announced next Wednesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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