EdCC union president reinstated as English teacher

LYNNWOOD — As president of Edmonds Community College’s faculty union, Margaret West has been critical of working conditions at the college and has let administrators know her opinion.

Even with her dual role as a part-time English instructor and a union president, West says she never expected that her annual teaching contract wouldn’t be renewed last year. She had been at the college for 21 years.

Her union filed a complaint after she didn’t get a new contract.

In July, the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission ruled that the college violated state labor law in declining to give West a new contract.

According to the commission, Joan Penney, dean of the college’s humanities and social sciences division, told union lawyer Jon Rosen under cross examination the college didn’t offer West a contract after summer quarter 2008 because she had been “divisive and disruptive” in the English department.

Commission documents quote Penney as telling Rosen, “the lines were blurred in some of the English Department meetings, in my observations, that she was not always there attending as an individual faculty member but she was bringing the union voice in.”

“That kind of nailed it right there,” said John Scott, a representative for the American Federation of Teachers Washington, which represents 7,500 college professors and instructors statewide.

The commission ordered the college to reinstate West — who continued her union work — as an instructor and pay $12,009 in wages owed her for the school year that she spent out of the classroom in 2008 and 2009.

On Monday, the college’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to acknowledge the error by reading the decision into the record during the board’s regular meeting. The ruling requires the board read the decision into its official records.

“While I’m glad we got the decision … at the same time, this is a situation that never should have happened,” West said last week.

Mark Cassidy, the college’s vice president of human resources, said he doesn’t think the decision will fundamentally change how the school handles part-time instructors’ contracts.

Besides, he said, West wasn’t the only part-time instructor the college dismissed last year. She was, however, the only dismissed instructor to complain about it.

“This was a unique situation where the part-time faculty member happened to be president of the union,” he said.

Part-time college instructors often handle the bulk of teaching duties at four-year and community colleges but earn about 30 percent less than their tenured colleagues, Scott said. Tenure provides community college instructors and university professors with a higher level of job security.

That, however, essentially creates a two-tiered system that can be unfair to part-timers, labor leaders say.

“Many of them work close to a full-time schedule but at least two-thirds aren’t on a tenure track,” said Rosen, the lawyer who represented the union before the commission.

Of the college’s 408 instructors, 274 are part-time. The rest are full-time, tenured instructors.

West said she’s felt comfortable teaching part-time at the college and hasn’t sought a full-time, tenured position.

“Hopefully, this decision will help us get back to a more collegial relationship,” she said.

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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