Citrus negotiating teams dig in for contentious contracts

Info-graphic by James Duffy

November 21, 2017

Citrus College negotiates with faculty and staff this month before previous contracts expire Dec. 31.

The three unions renewing their contracts with the district, Citrus’ staff, full-time and part-time faculty, are negotiating for salary increases comparable to other colleges in the area.

As of Nov. 17, the college incurred $12,449.50 in fees for a labor law attorney, Peter Fagen, to aid the district at the bargaining table.

Teams carefully protect their negotiating positions and will not discuss many aspects of the process.

“Our research indicates that staff salaries are lower than others in the field,” chief negotiator for the union representing classified staff, the California School Employees Association, Andrew Sundstrom said in an email.

Representatives of each of the faculty and staff bargaining units have said their employees are not being compensated equitably. The most contentious issue is the staff and faculty salary schedule.

“Ultimately, it comes down to salary, it is the one that affects everybody,” Robert Sammis, the head of human resources and chief negotiator for Citrus College, said. “We have an interest in working with our three unions to see if there are ways to control some health care costs—health, dental, vision.”

The college and negotiating parties have taken divisive positions.

“The last contract negotiations, when they gave us two percent or whatever little fledgling crumbs they could spare, they said they we were going to break the bank,” Cathy Day, language arts administrative secretary and CSEA negotiator, said.

Administrators like Sammis speak from stronger financial positions. Sammis’ 2016 total compensation was $230,480. Citrus College Superintendent/President Dr. Geraldine M. Perri made $375,619. It was one one the highest community college presidential compensations in the area, even among much larger colleges(See info-graphic above for local salary comparisons).

The administration building seen here on November 20, 2017 is the locus of negotiations between the college, faculty and staff. Photo by Xela Quintana, the Clarion.

Citrus faculty and staff compensation have fallen among regional colleges.

“We have people in critical positions that aren’t recognized for the work they do and that is unacceptable,” Justina Rivadeneyra, president of full-time faculty said. “By bargaining, we want to be part of the solution.”

Benefit costs like healthcare and retirement funds have been consistent sticking points in past negotiations. Union representatives have been told that increasing salaries would be risky for the college’s pension liability.

College administrations have been putting away more money in reserve funds to prepare for budget shortfalls. Numerous members of the faculty and staff unions raised the concern that the college was not spending enough of its funding balance, also known as the reserve. The college is responsible for funding part of the pension liability under the fund.

“I’ve never seen a budget quite like we are now,” said Claudette Dain, vice president of finance and administrative services, citing rising pension liabilities and potential recession as reasons for concern. “After they paid everybody’s longevity, everybody’s raises, everybody’s cash outlay, the reserve still went up $9 million.”

The ending balance of the 2016-2017 adjusted budget for the college accounted for 20 percent of total budget.  \

“I am proud to work at Citrus College,” Dain said. “We did not have to do layoffs during the recession, whereas many other colleges did.”

Dain praised college’s financial position as “prudent.” Her 2016 compensation was $229,226.

Rivadeneyra said if salary schedule is not improved, faculty retention is imperiled. She cited an example of an innovative faculty member, who recently left Citrus for a higher paying position.

“Barbara Juncosa founded the biotech program, left for Mira Costa,” Rivadeneyra said. “How do you fill a vacuum like that?”

Sammis does not think compensation or personnel retention are problems at the college.

“Our faculty stay for a long while,” Sammis said. “There is turnover; people’s lives change, so I’m not concerned about faculty retention.”

The parties negotiating with the college hold starkly different opinions of compensation and retention.

One of their complaints is a salary disparity between low-level staff and faculty salaries, which are among the lowest for regional community colleges and key administration officials, which are among the highest.

“Managers and administration get whatever we get, because King Midas says so,” Day said. “If you add two percent to Dr. Perri’s salary that’s a big chunk of money, but if you add two percent to the person making barely over minimum wage it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

Sammis disagreed that Citrus faculty or staff are poorly compensated.

“I don’t think there is anything to apologize for there,” Sammis said. “The data that (faculty negotiators) have doesn’t take into account total compensation.”

Day has witnessed retention problems among her own staff. She said Citrus is becoming a launching point for employee applicants and not a stable environment at which to make a career.

“We have staff that are not even leaving probation,” Day said. “It hurts my heart that to get to this point where I feel I should be recognized without having to beg. We cannot get people involved, they are afraid of the repercussions of stepping up and complaining.”

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About

James Duffy V loves to sing a song of one’s self. He is studying journalism at Citrus College and aspires to a career in writing. He cultivates interests in politics, finance, experimental medicine, religion, literature, music, art and gardening. More than any other flora, James would like to sprout the mythical bǐ huā 筆花—that flower the Chinese say springs from a good scribbler’s pen. He firmly believes the first responsibility of a journalist is fiat justitia ruat cælum, do justice and let the heavens fall.


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