South Bay college faculty want more pay for more work during COVID-19 chaos
Mission College in Santa Clara, shown here, serves Silicon Valley community college students along with its sister college, West Valley. Photo by Mission College

Dozens of faculty members at two South Bay community colleges say they’re not being paid for significantly more work and technology upgrades after a “chaotic” shift to online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now they’re bringing their concerns to the college district’s governing board.

The West Valley-Mission Federation of Teachers (WVMFT), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that represents about 750 members, flooded the district’s Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday to speak out about working conditions at West Valley College in Saratoga and Mission College in Santa Clara.

“Really, the current shelter-in-place order and COVID-19 have exacerbated problems that were already there for adjunct professors,” said Nicholas Barron, an adjunct professor at Mission College and a union member. “Despite being highly skilled, experienced and dedicated, adjuncts like myself lack employer-provided health insurance, job security and other basic resources they need to survive in the Bay Area as they try their best to provide a vital service for the most marginalized members of the community.”

A survey by the teachers union of all 750 members found that faculty members are working double or triple their regular hours since remote learning was implemented on March 16.

“Our district has not offered any additional pay for all the extra work,” said union president Kate Disney. “These are people with extensive training such as PhDs and master’s degrees. They should be making more money, but they’re doing twice and three times more work now because they really care about their students.”

Disney and other union executives met with West Valley-Mission Community College Chancellor Bradley Davis on April 29, but Disney said no agreement was reached.

Davis told San Jose Spotlight that the community college district is working through the “operational realities” of the sudden shift from in-person instruction to online classes.

“The parties are not currently engaged in collective bargaining given that the shift to online education falls within the existing language of our agreements and about 20% of our courses were online already,” Davis said in an email, “but we continue to work through the intricacies of the matter informally with our partners in an effort to collaborate on operational solutions, manage the anxiety we are all feeling and recognize the leadership all of our employees have shown in service to our students.”

The community college district on March 11 closed both of its campuses and initiated a three-phase transition to online learning with various start dates for classes. Since then, many students have dropped out, Disney said, because of difficulties with remote learning.

“Our main concern… and why we’re so pressed for time with this is we’re worrying about losing our students,” Barron said. “A good portion of students have fallen by the wayside.”

One of the union’s goals is compensation for eight classes that later in the semester cater mostly to older adults and are primarily taught by lower-income adjunct faculty.

The eight classes were canceled during the transition to remote learning, though faculty had already worked to develop curricula. The union claimed it will cost $36,000 to reimburse faculty for their time.

The union is also demanding reimbursement for faculty members who have spent out of pocket to meet the demands of online learning. Several teachers had to upgrade home-office equipment, Barron said, including laptops or internet connectivity to switch to online classes.

Union leaders estimate faculty had spent a collective $55,000 for such upgrades.

“What’s driving the faculty complaints are the teaching conditions they’re having to deal with, and teaching conditions are tied to learning conditions,” Disney said. “Our district has a lot of money, and they say it’s for a rainy day, and our faculty are saying, ‘Hey, we have a rainy day.’”

West Valley-Mission Community College District reported a net ending balance of over $57 million for the 2018-2019 academic year and is projected to end the 2019-2020 year with a net ending balance of $54 million, Disney said.

Contact Stella Lorence at [email protected] or follow @slorence3 on Twitter.

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