The St. Petersburg College faculty union has filed a complaint alleging the school has excluded its members from raises that other employees have received and is refusing to bargain over wages after 13 months of negotiations.
The complaint, filed Friday with the Public Employees Relations Commission, states that the college departed from its practice since 2014 of granting 3% raises to faculty members after they organized last year.
The complaint says every other employee at SPC was granted a raise in 2022, but faculty were told those represented by the bargaining unit would remain at status quo until an agreement was ratified. The complaint says a lawyer for the college’s bargaining team told them they didn’t want to deal with pay issues until the end of the process.
College spokesperson Rita Farlow said the union’s allegations are “absolutely without merit” and the school “will be vigorously defending against the charge.” Due to declining enrollment and other factors, she said, no employees received pay increases between 2016 and 2021 — except in 2019, when a one-time $500 bonus was awarded.
The union, which represents 292 faculty members, is calling on donors to withhold gifts to the school’s foundation until the matter is resolved.
Jessica Magnani, president of the union chapter, said faculty leaders have had amicable dealings with administrators and that the resistance appears to be coming from the college’s board of trustees.
“Is this because we unionized?” Magnani asked. “Is this a means of retaliation against faculty?”
In a similar dispute, the trustees voted in 2021 to reject a contract with the adjunct faculty union, but a special magistrate later ruled in the union’s favor on issues that held up a new contract. The board then chose to ignore the magistrate’s ruling.
Magnani said the college’s claim of maintaining status quo didn’t apply to insurance premiums, which for some employees increased by 190% and costs over $2,000 for those with a family plan. She said the board has considered moving away from that health care plan but had not finalized the decision.
“Faculty are going to have to choose health insurance or paying mortgage or rent,” Magnani said.
She said she’s already seen colleagues start to apply elsewhere, adding that fewer candidates are applying for open positions at St. Petersburg College as pay lags behind the cost of living.
A news release from the Florida Education Association said salaries for early-career professors start at $39,000 — lower than Pinellas County Schools and as much as 15% behind the market pay rate, according to a compensation study.
“Faculty at SPC are far from the ivory tower as many have admitted to donating plasma to make ends meet,” the release said.
Tara Newsom, an SPC professor and the sole provider of health care for her kids, said the new premiums take up two-thirds of her paychecks. Maria Escott, another faculty member, said in the release that her take-home pay is $427 every two weeks after deductions for insurance and retirement.
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“I have been donating plasma two times a week since learning about it from a faculty member who had been doing it to earn money,” Escott said in the release.
At a bargaining meeting Friday, a lawyer for the college said the school had not engaged in unfair labor practices and would continue bargaining in good faith.
Rita Farlow, a spokesperson for SPC, said the union’s allegations are “absolutely without merit” and the school “will be vigorously defending against the charge.”
“Our goal in bargaining has always been to provide the best working conditions and environment for our faculty, and we will continue those efforts,” said Farlow, the SPC spokesperson.
Magnani said she hopes the sides can continue bargaining and resolve the issues without a special magistrate.
“Our working conditions are ultimately student learning conditions,” she said.
Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.