Cuesta College faculty picket for more pay in San Luis Obispo

About 85 members of Cuesta College’s faculty union held a picket Friday to raise awareness of what they call a continued lack of fair compensation and to emphasize the need for a substantial raise. The union is at impasse with the district over compensation.
About 85 members of Cuesta College’s faculty union held a picket Friday to raise awareness of what they call a continued lack of fair compensation and to emphasize the need for a substantial raise. The union is at impasse with the district over compensation.

As Cuesta College employees were welcomed back Friday to kick off the community college’s spring semester, about 85 faculty members picketed outside the meeting, protesting what they call a lack of fair compensation.

Holding signs reading, “The time is NOW! Fair pay for excellent work,” the faculty members marched in front of the San Luis Obispo campus’ Student Center, where traditional opening day activities for faculty and staff were taking place inside.

Since the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers last rallied in support of salary increases in October, the faculty union and the college have declared themselves at impasse over compensation. The classified employees’ union, Cuesta College Classified United Employees, is also at impasse with the district.

“It’s hard to hire new faculty because they see the cost of living,” faculty union President Debra Stakes said. “The younger people see where they can make $15,000 more.”

Cuesta College has offered the faculty union a 4.46 percent ongoing increase — 1.5 percent going toward benefits and the rest in salaries. An additional 2.26 percent would be given in a one-time payment, said Melissa Richerson, executive director of Human Resources and Labor Relations. The last offer made to the classified union was a 3.55 percent ongoing raise and 1.5 percent one-time increase.

The faculty union has asked for 6.41 percent ongoing raise for full-time faculty and 7.41 percent for part-time faculty, Stakes said. Richerson said the classified union has asked for a 5 percent ongoing increase.

It’s hard to keep faculty and staff with such low salaries.

Debra Stakes, president of the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers

There are 478 faculty members at Cuesta, Richerson said: 304 part-time faculty, 161 full-time and 13 who teach noncredit courses. There are 191 full-time and 33 part-time classified employees.

In a statement, the college said the board of trustees and Superintendent/President Gil Stork have maintained their philosophy on compensation: to support and authorize salary increases that are fair and as equitable as possible while also ensuring the fiscal stability of the district.

The district received a better budget from the state this fiscal year than it has in the past several years, but most of the new money was one-time-only funds, “and it would not be prudent to taxpayers of the district to use ‘one-time-only’ funds to incur new ongoing, long-term salary commitments,” according to the statement.

The faculty union received a 1 percent raise in 2013-14 and another 1 percent in the 2014-15 year (the raises were approved retroactively in December 2014). The classified union also received a 2 percent increase, Richerson said.

She said the district does offer “salary matching” to try to place an employee somewhere on the Cuesta salary schedule that would closely match the amount of money earned at a previous job.

The district feels these offers are fair and fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, given the college’s enrollment challenges and lack of growth in total students, which is the primary driver for increased state funding of on-going dollars.

Cuesta College statement on salary negotiations

But, the faculty union countered in a summary of its positions: “Because of the six-year drought of any salary increases for faculty from 2008-14, and a meager 2 percent increase from negotiations last year, even with such a 6.41 percent increase (proposed by the union), faculty still are being outpaced by SLO County inflation and remain far below the average of the parties’ negotiated cohort of similar college districts.”

As a comparison, a beginning full-time faculty member at Cuesta College would earn $47,657 in the 2015-16 academic year — lower than 14 comparable districts in the state, according to a salary chart compiled by the California Federation of Teachers and used by both the union and the Cuesta district in negotiations. The comparable districts include Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Merced College, Monterey Peninsula College, Santa Barbara City College and College of the Sequoias in Visalia.

At the top end of the salary scale, Cuesta College faculty earn $99,597, less than all of the other 14 colleges except Monterey.

“It’s difficult for us to recruit new faculty because when they look at the compensation packages offered by other schools, they’re $10,000 to $15,000 less (at Cuesta),” said Greg Baxley, who has taught chemistry at Cuesta since 2004.

For example, an open full-time chemistry teaching job would pay someone with a doctorate and five years of experience $64,364 a year, Baxley said.

Sixteen of the 17 other community colleges with a full-time chemistry job open this fall would pay more for that same level of education and experience, he said, with Bakersfield College’s salary at $92,707 and MiraCosta Community College in Oceanside at $96,941.

Baxley compared an average of five salary categories at Cuesta College and said the college ranks 64th out of all 72 districts for its average salary and is at the bottom of all college districts in the state when total compensation is considered.

Salary increases have been stagnant for several years at Cuesta College, in part because of the state budget, and in part because of declining enrollment. Cuesta reached a peak of 10,017 full-time-equivalent students in the 2008-09 year, but that number has declined every year since, said Chris Green, interim assistant superintendent/vice president of administrative services.

The college hopes to have 8,220 full-time-equivalent students this year.

“We want to increase salaries as the funds become available, but we also want to keep the long-term fiscal health of the college in mind,” Green said.

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO