Mid-managers at Triton College in River Grove have announced that they plan to strike on Nov. 6. The news comes two weeks after the employees voted overwhelmingly for their union to authorize a strike if negotiations with the board and administration fell apart — and as of Tuesday, it looked extremely likely that a work stoppage would happen on Wednesday.
In a statement released Oct. 31, Kay Frey, president of the Triton Mid-Managers Chapter of the Cook County College Teachers Union, said the union was pushed to strike by the college's administration.
"We don't take setting a strike date lightly, but we strongly feel this is what's necessary as we stand up for ourselves and the Triton community we all love," Frey stated.
"We have been pushed to this point by an administration that refuses to take our needs seriously and respect our abilities. Many of us put in a lot of extra hours without recognition for our efforts, but yet that's not enough," she added. "Mid-managers feel disrespected, devalued and underpaid."
The two sides appeared to be moving toward an agreement in late October.
College officials said the mid-managers negotiating team had tentatively agreed to a "three-year contract with four percent pay increases per year. The contract includes retroactive pay back to Sept. 30." Triton officials said that the mid-managers rejected a tentative agreement reached on Oct. 24 that was agreed to by their negotiating team.
The mid-managers' contract expired on June 30. Frey said that 80 percent of the 53-person union — which represents 63 mid-managers, including health services directors, assistance finance directors and career services directors — voted in favor of the strike authorization on Oct. 15. Negotiations between the union and Triton officials had been stuck in mediation for several weeks.
Last week, 59 mid-manager positions were posted to Triton's employment web page in a move that outraged union members.
Charles Harper, a field director for Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, said on Nov. 5 that the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board on Monday.
"[Triton's posting of the mid-manager positions] is a clear effort to intimidate and suppress union activity," Harper said, adding that the college did not notify any of the mid-managers before their jobs were posted.
Triton spokesperson Derrell Carter said in an email on Nov. 5 that the college "is obligated to do what is in the best interest of students, and to ensure that its mission of valuing the individual and educating and serving the community is fulfilled at all times."
The job postings only exacerbated already tense relations between college administrators and the mid-managers. Much of the conflict has been about pay raises and work hours.
Mark Stephens, the chairperson of Triton's Board of Trustees, said during a meeting Oct. 15 that the board and administration have "always stood by the employees and stood up for them." As an example, he said that the college set aside $11 million, from a $57 million bond issue, to put into operating funds during Gov. Bruce Rauner's tenure as governor — a measure that staved off mass layoffs, Stephens said.
Sean Sullivan, Triton's vice president of business services and the college's lead negotiator, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. On Oct. 31, union officials said that the board's latest offer was unacceptable.
"Mid-managers oppose the imposition of 16 hours of extra work per year," according to the union's statement, which added that 20 mid-managers have left Triton this year because of "low compensation, overwork and lack of respect from Triton Administration, leaving other mid-managers to pick up the work created by the vacancies. That's a turnover of 30 percent of the unit! Adding more work for an already stretched mid-manager unit will only weaken morale further and cause more turnover."
The union also opposes the board's proposed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, which includes an hour of unpaid lunch. Union members said that the proposed schedule is "out of alignment with the variety of tasks performed by mid-managers that serve the assorted needs of the college." They said that many students attend school at night and require help from mid-managers outside of typical business house.
"Scheduling work that is outside of the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. default schedule 'on an individual' and 'case by case' basis is impractical and will ultimately result in less support for students," they said.
In an email statement that Carter released on behalf of the college on Oct. 31, college officials said the mid-manager's claims about being asked to work more hours "is simply not true."
"If a mid-manager works on a Saturday, they can switch these hours worked for time off in the future, hour-for-hour, resulting in no additional time worked," college officials stated.
In its statement, the union also explained that mid-managers "gave up raises during the state budget impasse under former Governor Bruce Rauner and are not willing to accept 'no retro pay' from July 1 to Sept. 30. Making the new negotiated raises effective to the previous contract's expiration is standard in labor contracts and would only cost the college $60K. Denying full retro pay is an insult to Triton professional staff who have sacrificed for the college in the past."
In their email statement, Triton College officials said "there has never been an instance of mid-managers not receiving annual pay raises," adding that in 2017 the mid-managers, along with other workers, "agreed to delay raises until October, instead of the regularly scheduled July 1 start like all employees that year. Mid-managers were given complete retroactive raises to July 1 of that year.
Officials said over the last 11 years mid-managers have gotten an average annual raise of 3.6 percent, with mid-manager salaries at Triton ranging from $40,088 to $100,105.
A strike by mid-managers at Triton would affect students in all departments of the college — from student advising and registration to financial aid and IT, the union said.
On Oct. 15, Stephens said that if the negotiations between the union and the college aren't resolved, "trust me, we will serve our students. There will be no missing a beat." Frey said that the strike would be the college's first in her roughly 30 years of working there.
In its statement, Triton College officials said that mid-managers "are not teaching positions, therefore no classes are directly impacted by these negotiations. The college is open and classes are running as scheduled. We look forward to reaching a fair and equitable agreement."