The administration and faculty at Northwestern Michigan College have finally reached a contract agreement. The agreement comes after more than a year and a half of tense negotiations.
Collective bargaining began when the faculty unionized in 2015. Bronwyn Jones, an instructor at NMC and a faculty representative in the negotiation process, says the faculty originally unionized in part because they felt left out of the college's decision-making processes and the faculty's relationship with administration was strained.
She says while faculty are accepting lower pay than they'd originally hoped for as part of the agreement reached on Monday, they are making gains in a few key areas that give them a place at the decision-making table.
For one, the contract says faculty can again report directly to the board of trustees during meetings without restrictions on what they say.
"That was very different from language [on previous contract proposals] that said there were a whole host of things that we couldn’t talk about," Jones says.
She says the college originally wanted to limit faculty to talking about innovation and other positive topics during board meetings.
Jones says the contract also allows faculty involvement in the selection of the next college president and requires occasional invitations to president council meetings.
This contract agreement was unexpected. Just recently, after a failed negotiation attempt, a representative for the college said bargaining between the faculty and administration was at an impasse.
But faculty approved the agreement Monday night almost unanimously, with only three votes against the agreement, according to Jones. The board of trustees approved it unanimously.
NMC President Tim Nelson says a looming health care deadline was partially responsible for moving things forward in the past two weeks.
“Our signup period for healthcare is right now," Nelson says. "So had we not come to an agreement, we might have had a different selection in terms of what the health care changes were going to be for the campus."
Jones says she thinks the election also played a role. She says candidates campaigning for two board of trustees' seats talked about the need to repair the relationship between the administration and faculty, putting pressure on the administration to compromise during contract negotiations.
"We do not trust this administration or the board," says Mary Burget, an instructor in NMC's math department. She says trust has been lost as faculty have been pushed out of decision-making processes. Burget says one way the administration and board can begin to rebuild that trust is to shadow and observe instructors in the classroom.
"Trust occurs when people work together, and when people do not work together, when they isolate themselves, then it's difficult to have that relationship," says NMC President Tim Nelson.
Nelson says this agreement will allow them to work together more in the future.
"Trust is a matter of perspective," he says, "but it also takes both parties, and so you can't lay trust or a lack of trust on any one side of multiple parties. Everyone has a role to play, and we'll have to work at that."
Burget says it's a shame that so much money went towards this long negotiation process. But she says at least one good thing has come of of it:
"This situation had a good upside in that we as faculty members really bonded and really came together," Burget says.
The contract agreement lasts through the end of 2018 and includes step pay increases and an enhanced formal evaluation process for faculty.
A contract for NMC’s faculty chairpersons was also approved.