“The problem that we had was that the school was being run on our backs.” Christine O’Connor
Old Issues, New Blood
In the mid-1990s a more energized Adjunct Faculty Association emerged at Oakton. Perhaps it began with the Oakton Adjunct Faculty Association supporting an IEA/NEA lobbying effort in Springfield. The Illinois State Senate was considering a bill that would increase the teaching-load requirement for inclusion in an adjunct faculty union, thus weakening unions. Oakton adjuncts joined other community college teachers in buses and vans paid for by the American Federation of Teachers to travel to Springfield. The group from Oakton consisted of Barbara Dayton and fifteen other adjuncts. Thanks largely to pressure applied by the IEA supporters, the bill was defeated.
Mr. David Schall, who had joined the part-time faculty in 1994, was one of the participants in the Springfield trip. Mr. Schall also taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College where he had been on the negotiating team for that college’s part-time faculty union. AFA co-president Lorraine Murray had asked Mr. Schall to join the lobbyists, and from that time forward he became active in the association. His experience proved crucial to AFA’s negotiating team.
Negotiations on the fifth contract began in the spring of 1996. The adjunct faculty’s negotiating team consisted of Mr. Schall, Ms. Dayton, and Ms. Murray. Mr. Schall was the lead negotiator and the ‘workhorse of the negotiations’ whereas Ms. Dayton was the ‘face of the organization.’ Mr. Schall had benefited from the training provided by the American Federation of Teachers and presented the Oakton Board with more than forty pages of requests. Rather than basing these negotiations on past contracts, Mr. Schall wanted to open discussions on all issues.
The AFA’s goals included the same old issues: job security and seniority. Other requests included reassignment, (the ability of one teacher to ‘bump’ another based on seniority), pay increases (equity pay per credit hour with full-timers), fair share (non-union members paying their ‘fair share’ of bargaining costs), a higher ceiling on the number of hours part-time faculty could teach, and greater access to full-time faculty positions.
Mr. Schall realized that any chance for success depended on a new approach. The union needed to launch a publicity campaign to educate the public and put pressure on the Board of Trustees. Fortunately, the Adjunct Faculty Association had a new group of energetic part-timers: Christine O’Connor, Jan Magoc, Ann Faye, and Art Omohundro. This infusion of new blood helped provide leadership within the organization to support the new approach.
Pressure Increases on the Board of Trustees
At the June, 1996, OCC Board of Trustees meeting, AFA faculty members showed up wearing buttons that read ‘Full Time Justice for Part-Time Faculty.’ John Franco, an adjunct philosophy professor, remarked that the Oakton administration was taking advantage of cheap pools of adjunct faculty, and that some part-timers’ salaries were below the federal poverty level. Although adjuncts were allowed to teach up to eleven credit hours each semester, the majority taught between six and nine. For the 1995-96 academic years, adjunct faculty made less than forty-five percent per hour of what full-time instructors were paid.
After the Board of Trustees meeting, the co-presidents of the AFA declined to talk to the press about salary increases. However, they did speak about job security, saying that the administration needed to implement “a system that guarantees assignments for part-timers who have been teaching at the college for several years.” Although technically the college was doing this, the AFA wanted it in the contract. The AFA also wanted additional office space. Only two small offices existed to accommodate the 450 part-time faculty members. Moreover, although part-time faculty taught 54 percent of the courses at OCC, many said they were not afforded the same respect as their full-time colleagues.
None of the issues was directly addressed by the Board although Board Chairman Jody Wadhwa did say, “You are part of our family. We respect you.” The president of the college, Margaret Lee, later responded that “Negotiations are proceeding the way we’ve anticipated they would, and we look forward to a mutually agreeable settlement.” Negotiations, however, were deadlocked. After the August 1st negotiating session, the administration declared an impasse and requested a federal mediator. “It is not binding, but simply a way for each side to hear what the other side is asking or saying through a neutral voice,” said Mary Mittler, Vice President for Academic Affairs. According to the co-leaders of the Adjunct Faculty Association, part-timers wanted “pay proportionately equal to the educators who teach full time, contractual consideration for full-time positions, recognition of seniority status or re-hiring rights, paid office hours, health benefits and last but not least – respect.”
Using Publicity to Gain Support
Under the leadership of Jan Magoc, AFA membership chairman, and Christine O’Connor, publicity chairman, flyers explaining the AFA’s cause were passed out at various commuter train stations. Several part-time faculty members wrote letters to the editor in local newspapers. On August 15, 1996, Christine O’Connor’s letter appeared in the Skokie Review; she wrote that “the morale is low among part-time teachers because of the fragile nature of their jobs…It is interesting that a school unconcerned about its low employee morale and high faculty turnover officially describes itself as a “caring community.’”
At the September, 1996, meeting of the Board of Trustees, adjunct faculty members again took their case directly to the Board. According to an article in a Pioneer Press publication, “Oakton Community College’s adjunct faculty members, in the midst of stalled contract negotiations…are waging a no-holds-barred campaign to have their complaints heard.” Three part-time instructors told the board that they were committed to the students, but were unappreciated and unrecognized as part of the college’s scholastic team. Ann Faye, Marilyn Sweeney, and Jan Magoc all testified that they were underpaid and not treated as professionals.
On September 23, 1996, the AFA wrote an open letter to the student body that appeared in the OCCurrence. The AFA wanted students to know that:
The AFA leadership distributed flyers and Chinese fortune cookies, which Ms. O’Connor had purchased in Chicago’s Chinatown, to students on Student Street at the Des Plaines campus. The ‘fortunes’ included such phrases as ‘Full-time Justice for Part-time Faculty.’
In October 1996, the Occurrence reported that the negotiations were centered on two major concerns: job security and salary. According to AFA’s co-president Barbara Dayton, the administration had offered no counter-proposal to the adjunct faculty association. The administration said that by definition, adjunct faculty are hired to accommodate the needs of students at particular points in time, and to guarantee employment could preclude the College from hiring those faculty members needed to best serve the students.
By November, the Board’s negotiating team presented its ‘last best offer’ to the AFA. In making its report to its membership, the AFA leadership could only ‘recommend’ or make ‘no recommendation.’ The negotiating team made ‘no recommendation’ on whether or not the membership should accept the contract. In November, members of the AFA voted with a 60 percent majority to reject the contract, much to the surprise and delight of the negotiating team. According to an AFA flyer, the administration’s proposal did not address the adjunct faculty’s most important issue, job security. The large voter turnout demonstrated the members’ concerns about the current educational policies at Oakton. The issue of formalizing the informal practice in class assignments had not been resolved.
A second offer was extended by the administration in December, 1996. According to Lorraine Murray, “It wasn’t much different than the last one. The salary scale was the same, and they changed the verbiage regarding job security.” Even Evelyn Burdick, OCC’s executive director of institutional relations, agreed that the contract, which offered a four percent wage increase over three years, was basically the same as the one presented in November. The adjunct faculty rejected the second contract offer as well. The AFA leadership was surprised, but pleased. Part-time faculty members continued to work ‘in good faith’ without a contract.
After about a month with no face-to-face talks, the administration and the Adjunct Faculty Association went back to the negotiating table on February 3, 1997. To keep up the pressure on Oakton’s Board, the union circulated petitions in March, 1997 calling for the college administration to continue talks and to improve their working conditions. Petitions were presented to Oakton Community College trustees with a total of 1,060 signatures.
A Three-year Fifth Contract Approved: 1996-1999
In April, 1997, the Adjunct Faculty Association finally approved a new three-year contract offered by the Board. The contract provided pay raises averaging four percent for each of the contract’s three years, retroactive to January 1. According to Ms. Dayton, “This is the fairest contract we’ve ever had in terms of the adjunct faculty getting the same dollar amount. We have stronger language about seniority in terms of getting assignment of classes now.” Other benefits and additions to the fifth contract included:
Most importantly, the Adjunct Faculty Association felt they had earned respect from the administration. Twice the negotiating team had stood up to the Board, and twice the membership had rejected the administration’s offer. The result was a contract with concrete gains and a foundation for future negotiations.