By Kayly Coleman / Staff Writer
Faculty at Raritan Valley Community College have been working without a contract since their previous one expired last June. They will comment on this at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
AFT Local 2375 (also known as the RVCC Faculty Federation), a branch of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is representing over 200 full-time and adjunct faculty members at RVCC. According to the AFT Local 2375 website, they have been negotiating a contract with the Board of Trustees since February 2014.
“We’re trying to negotiate a settlement that’s fair to everyone,” said Maria M. DeFilippis, Esq., president of the RVCC Faculty Federation and coordinator of paralegal studies. “It’s very difficult to start a school year without a contract for the faculty.”
But that is exactly what the federation was forced to do during the 2010-2011 school year. According to DeFilippis, those last rounds of negotiations were “not amicable at all.”
The last contract covered July 1, 2011 to June 30 2013. But because they had not reached an agreement by the time they ended, the college and federation entered A Memorandum of Agreement for a period of one year, which extended the contracts to June 2014.
A fair contract, said John Trojan, Vice President of Finance & Facilities, entails factoring in the school’s budget. He says the administration is concerned mostly about state funding. “Right now, students are paying about 62 percent of the school's budget, while the counties pay 28 percent and the state only 10,” says Trojan.
Because enrollment is going down, the school is not receiving as much money from tuition costs. To further complicate the issue, the counties have not increased their funding to the school in 2 years.
Somerset and Hunterdon Counties are ranked as the fourth and eighth wealthiest counties, respectively, in the United States by median household income. This is according to the 2012 American Community Survey prepared by the US Census Bureau.
However, of the 19 county colleges in New Jersey, the average salary of a professor at RVCC is ranked only at number nine in the state, below counties with lower costs of living.
“We would like our salaries to be more comparable to those of our fellow professors and colleagues,” said DeFilippis. “We are a very professional bunch of people.”
Many faculty members at RVCC publish books, including Bick Treut and Thomas Valasek of the Communications & Languages Department, Kevin Reilly of the Humanities, Social Sciences & Education Department, and Charlie Bondhus of the English Department. Many others present at professional conferences or are published in professional journals and periodicals.
According to Trojan, negotiations are difficult for administration because salary increases are compounded annually, meaning a one percent increase will become a three percent increase in three years. Additionally, 83 percent of the school’s budget already goes toward the salaries and benefits of faculty, administration and staff.
One professor, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he works 65 hours per week. This includes teaching, preparing for classes, grading, doing committee work, and taking courses towards a PhD which RVCC mandates as professional development, a condition for promotion. He earns a salary of $69,000, which comes out to about $9 an hour after taxes. Worse still, he’s been forced to contribute to his health care insurance costs—due to a recent New Jersey law—that takes another $3,500 per year out of his take home pay. He said that other professors are similarly effected.
According to DeFilippis, over the years the federation’s role at the college has changed significantly. She said in its beginnings, the relationship between the administration and the federation was marked by openness, communication and most importantly, shared governance. Over the past 24 years that DeFilippis has been here, she has noticed “that the attitude has changed significantly. The federation is no longer considered a part of the governance at the college.”
These drawn-out negotiations are not typical at this school, according to DeFilippis, who also blames the rhetoric and the policies instituted by the state government in Trenton. “In general we’re looking for a fair wage, a reasonable work load, and salaries and benefits that are comparable to those of our surrounding community colleges.”
“We certainly value the faculty,” says Trojan, “and want to compensate them accordingly and fairly, while reducing the impact on students and taxpayers.”
The federation is hopeful that with the new president will come a new era of cooperation and communication between the administration and the federation at RVCC.
“We are really attempting to understand the budgetary needs of the college but at the same time look at the living costs and expenses for the members of our union,” said DeFilippis.