By Don McIntosh
VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON — About 45 Clark College instructors put on red union t-shirts and marched through campus Feb. 13 to the familiar call-and-response chant “What do we want?” “Fair contract!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
To Clark College faculty union members, a fair contract means long-overdue raises that are more than inflation. About 500 college faculty at Clark College are represented by Clark College Association of Higher Education, an affiliate of the Washington Education Association teachers union. They say they haven’t had more than cost-of-living increases in decades, and they want salaries comparable to that of K-12 public school teachers.
Clark is a state-funded community college that provides vocational training, associates degrees, and preparation for four-year university degrees. Its non-traditional student population includes many older students, veterans, and parents. The average age is 26, and 72 percent are first-generation college students. Forty-three percent of the student body is classified as low income.
Clark faculty are feeling pretty low income as well. Full-time professors there make $53,000 to $75,000 a year for year-round work, and went without even cost-of-living increases for six years in a row. Meanwhile, at nearby K-12 school districts, school teachers with an equivalent masters degree make $93,000 to $97,000 after a recent pay bump.
“The cost of living has increased so much in Vancouver and Portland in the last few years, and our salaries have not caught up at all,” said communications instructor Suzanne Southerland.
Clark College music teacher Don Appert, head of his department, says he’s never had more than a 3 percent raise in over 20 years. And nursing professor Lisa Aepfelbacher says graduates of her nursing program will make more their first year of work nursing than the instructors who taught them.
In this year’s salary negotiations, Clark administrators began by offering just a cost-of-living increase. Union president Kim Sullivan said that amounted to bad faith: What’s the use of bargaining as a union if the college is only offering what it’s already mandated by state law to give? At a Feb. 13 bargaining session, the college increased its offer to 1 percent above the state’s cost-of-living raise.
But Clark administration is also asking departments to prepare for budget cuts of up to 5 percent, citing declining enrollment and the state revenue that’s tied to enrollment. Several years ago, budget cuts led Clark to eliminate whole programs, including French and German, paralegal training, and medical radiology.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Clark College said the school — in partnership with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges — is asking the Washington Legislature to fund a 12 percent increase in employee salaries over the next four years.
Until salary negotiations are settled, the union is asking members to wear their red “pay equity” t-shirts every Wednesday.
“We hope they don’t make us strike,” Southerland said.