College of DuPage faculty wants mediator to help settle contract talks

College of DuPage faculty members are preparing to start the fall term without a contract as negotiations continue to drag.

Despite months of talks, union representatives and college administrators still need to resolve numerous bargaining issues - and the two sides haven't even begun to discuss pay.

"We don't feel like a lot of progress is being made," said Shannon Toler, president of the COD Faculty Association, which represents the school's 304 full-time faculty members.

COD President Brian Caputo acknowledges contract talks have been "slow."

"When you've got a lot of complicated issues, it takes a long time," Caputo said Wednesday. "You need a lot of negotiating sessions to go through them."

He said such opportunities were "more limited" over the summer.

But with classes starting Monday, Toler said faculty members want to see more progress, especially since COD is trying to hire more than 140 adjunct faculty members.

Union members and supporters are scheduled to rally at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at COD's Glen Ellyn campus. Following the rally, Toler will attend a board meeting to ask trustees to bring in a federal mediator.

"We are at the table," Toler said. "We want to have discussions. We want to come to some resolution."

She said a mediator would "guide the discussion around the issues that both sides feel strongly about and help us come to an appropriate compromise."

The faculty's previous contract originally was approved in June 2012 after 16 months of contentious negotiations. Over the past four years, the pact was extended twice, but it expired at midnight Tuesday.

The last extension two years ago kept the faculty's existing pay schedule. So while members got raises based on increased levels of education and years of experience; there were no cost-of-living raises.

As result, Toler said, nearly half of faculty members have their salaries frozen.

Negotiations on the new contract started in March. There have been 11 bargaining sessions so far and the next is scheduled for Aug. 27.

Toler said the two sides disagree on several issues, including a proposal to "redefine the work of faculty and how we interact with the administration."

COD officials say they're seeking to have faculty performance evaluations include in-classroom observations by supervisors.

The faculty association first asked on July 30 to bring in a mediator.

"We weren't adverse to mediation," Caputo said. "It's just that there were a large share of our proposals in the negotiations that hadn't been acted upon yet."

He said officials thought mediation would be an option used later "after we got through all the proposals."

Toler said faculty members were surprised when the college posted job openings for 144 adjunct faculty positions.

Caputo said 49 of the job postings aren't new, but 95 are.

Administrators were directed by the board to be prepared in case there's a strike. Hiring more adjunct faculty would put the college "in a better position" to deal with a possible work stoppage.

"We have a responsibility to try to maintain the educational services of the institution," Caputo said.

Toler said the board's action sends the message it's not focusing on reaching an agreement as soon as possible.

"It seems like the effort that's going into preparing for a strike could be effort that could go into our negotiations," she said.

Toler said a strike is the last thing the faculty wants.

"We want to be in our classrooms with our students," she said, "not on a picket line."

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