Schenectady County Manager Kathleen Rooney is rejecting an arbitrator’s recommendation that the Schenectady County Community College faculty receive an 11 percent raise over three years on the grounds that their salaries are below those of other community colleges.
In a decision dated Jan. 9, Public Employment Relations Board fact-finder Sumner Shapiro recommended that the faculty get a 3.5 percent retroactive raise for the 2010-2011 school year, a 3.5 percent raise for the current year and 4 percent raise for the 2012-13 year.
Thursday, Rooney issued a letter calling the fact-finder’s recommendation unrealistic and said they did not take into account the continued economic downturn and the increase in mandated costs county government must fund. She also said in the last decade, the faculty received raises well above the inflation rate and urged both sides to return to the bargaining table.
County Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said the legislature is likely to support the manager.
“In my mind the fact-finder’s recommendation is a nonstarter,” he said.
The 80-member faculty union has been working under the terms of a contract that expired on Aug. 31, 2010. Last June, the SCCC Board of Trustees voted down a contract containing a 2 percent pay raise on the grounds that other unions at the college got only a 1.5 percent raise.
The SCCC Faculty Association requested fact-finding with PERB and both parties met on Sept. 9, Nov. 21 and Dec. 2 and could not reach agreement, which prompted the fact-finder to come up with a recommendation.
In the nonbinding recommendation, Shapiro sided with the arguments of the SCCC Faculty Association that the teachers are making less than their peer institutions. The average salary at SCCC in 2010 was $52,391, which is less than the $55,475 average among 11 comparable community colleges.
Also, Shapiro pointed out that the county only provides about 10 percent of the college’s operating budget, which is the lowest in the state and only half as much as the next lowest.
The association argued that the total cost of the contract would be $1 million over three years. This is higher than the $550,000 cost for the college’s offer.
He said the faculty does not receive any “step” raises for each year of service, only the cost-of-living raises. The union argued that the 1.5 percent raise for CSEA masks the step raises that union members get, which means the true increase is between 3.2 percent and 3.7 percent, according to Sumner.
College officials argued to the arbitrator that such raises are impossible in the current fiscal climate, especially with the 2 percent tax cap and the $2 million in damage done to the college from tropical storms Irene and Lee. College officials have had to tap surplus to fund those repairs until it gets reimbursed. Also, the college is dealing with a new $200,000 parking assessment imposed by the county.
SCCC Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said the board would discuss the issue at its meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m. Both sides have to return to the bargaining table.
“First and foremost, we’ve got faculty who haven’t had a contract in a long time. My priority right now is to try to get some sort of a resolution to this situation,” she said.
Hughes also agreed with the need for more discussion. He said the county has to think about what the taxpayers can afford and what is fair to the other unions who have already settled contracts.
“You have to have some equity with other county employees as well and those contracts have been in the 1.5 percent range. And certainly the private sector isn’t seeing anywhere near that,” he said.
Faculty Association President Ralf Schauer could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
However, he said previously that the association believes that salaries for various levels are near the bottom in the state, which is not in line with the college officials’ desire to create an elite institution.