A new contract for Hudson Valley faculty was approved by Rensselaer County last week after about a year of negotiations. All professors are members of a union, the Faculty Association, and their terms of employment are determined by the newly passed contract.
The previous agreement between the college and the faculty association expired in September last year. New York state law requires that public employees, such as those at Hudson Valley, continue working under the terms of the previous contract when no contract is in place.
After working through most of the academic year without a new contract, the Faculty Association approved the new agreement in a close vote in mid-March. It was then passed by the Board of Trustees, the Rensselaer County Legislature, and signed by Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino.
There was a gap between the two sides in their opening proposals and ironing out the final agreement required compromise.
“At the end of the day, they call it collective bargaining because hopefully you meet in the middle and, when you do meet in the middle, generally it benefits the college, the faculty association, and of course the students,” said Vice President for Administration James Lagatta, who was heavily involved in negotiations as a representative of the college. Lagatta has been at Hudson Valley for over 45 years and has experience on the other side of the table as well.
Greg Sausville, history professor and president of the Faculty Association said that the process was fair and that the results would be good for the college. “I think in the long run, it’s going to help out the overall longevity of the school and the faculty’s jobs,” said Sausville.
Some of the most significant changes in this contract included the elimination of finals week, student evaluations of faculty, office hours being reduced to 40 minutes, and a reduced annual pay raise for faculty. The new contract is retroactively effective starting Sept. 1, 2014 and expires on Aug. 31, 2019. During these years, final exams will be given during normal class hours.
According to Sausville, the biggest points of contention were the ability for the college to assign distance learning courses to all faculty, the elimination of finals week, salaries, and benefits.
“I imagine for some people the first year or two will be tough, trying to make that transition,” said Sausville about the change in the academic calendar. He believes that in a few years faculty will be fully adjusted.
“I think it’s a change from what we’re accustomed to but I think our faculty possess skills and talent to adjust their course to adequately reflect all the material that needs to be taught and provide a suitable assessment to the course,” said Lagatta.
Sausville noted that the change in the calendar means fewer work days for faculty, which is similar to a pay increase. The administration’s initial proposal contained a 10 percent increase in workload for full-time faculty and no annual pay increases. The approved contract raises full-time salaries by between 1.85 percent and 2 percent annually starting in the 2015-16 academic year.
The college has been under pressure in recent years to cut costs with uncertainties in revenue looming due to decreases in enrollment and changes to government funding formulas.
“Every decision we make, everything that we do, that’s something we need to consider. With regard to the contract, we need to be sensitive to those issues,” said Hudson Valley President Drew Matonak with regard to the college’s financial position.
“We also knew going in to this that the school has financial trouble,” said Sausville, who noted that this contract has more favorable terms for faculty than many other local colleges. Since the recession, many colleges have had to cut costs by reducing faculty benefits and raises.
Hudson Valley’s faculty has been unionized for nearly five decades. Matonak believes that this makes the college a “mature” institution and helps during the negotiation process.
“Everybody has an independent mind, so are you ever going to find an agreement that you’re going to get 100 percent concurrence on? No. But, we feel that what we were able to come up with was very positive for the college and the faculty going forward,” said Matonak.