When Natalie Denny got her first paycheck of fall term earlier this month, she assumed there was a mistake.
“I’m teaching the classes I was teaching last year, but my check was lower,” said Denny, a part-time math instructor at Portland Community College.
The decrease was a result of PCC’s union contract, which is seeking more pay equity for part-time faculty.
Because of changes implemented by the contract, Denny said, her paycheck was about 1% lower than usual. She said she was not notified by the college or the union beforehand.
A total of 388 part-time faculty members saw varying decreases in their paychecks this month, according to Frank Goulard, President of the Portland Community College Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals, PCC’s union. Goulard is also a math instructor at the college.
Goulard said the union and PCC are discussing how to get part-time faculty who saw those decreases back to their previous pay rates.
Of the 388 faculty members who received a decrease, 217 had a decrease of around 1%, like Denny. Another 152 saw about a 4% decrease, and 19 part-time faculty members had a decrease of about 7%.
Goulard said the majority of PCC part-time faculty saw an increase in their pay rates — 566 part-time faculty members, to be exact. Those increases in pay rate ranged from 1.5% to 12.6%.
He said the union did not know the full effects on pay rates until PCC released data to the union shortly before paychecks were issued.
The changes are the result of a new four-year contract between the union and PCC, effective last December.
That contract will create pay increases ranging from an estimated 16% to 40% for part-time faculty, but those increases are happening over time, Goulard said.
He said, it was estimated that part-time faculty would see the largest pay increases in the first and fourth years of the contract. The contract is in its second year.
The original part-time faculty pay schedule included 11 “steps,” similar to pay grades, while the full-time faculty pay schedule includes 17 steps.
Over the life of the new contract, the part-time faculty pay schedule will increase to 17 steps gradually, to match the full-time one.
“When matching it with the full-time schedule, there’s sort of a renumbering of steps that happens,” Goulard said. “But then there is that possibility of a pay decrease. We just didn’t know how many people or who they would be or how much of a decrease it would be.”
On Oct. 12, Goulard said, the college shared its data of which part-time faculty members would be advancing a step for the academic year and who would not, as well as exact employee pay increases and decreases.
Since then, Goulard said, the union began working with PCC to get part-time faculty members back to the pay rate they were at before the decrease.
“The college remains willing to discuss cost neutral alternatives if the Federation has proposals to share,” PCC said in a statement.
PCC said its administrators and the union had previously discussed that some part-time faculty could see pay rate reductions as a result of the changing pay steps.
Goulard told OPB that was not clearly discussed.
Denny said she’s disappointed she was not alerted about the pay decrease before she saw it on her paycheck.
“We started teaching and worked for four weeks without being told our rate of pay went down,” she said. “That doesn’t sound like that should happen.”
Goulard said the union notified people who could expect a 4% to 7% decrease on Thursday, Oct. 15. Denny wasn’t notified because her decrease was less than that.
Denny said she and other part-time faculty in the union weren’t notified by email until Oct. 22, nearly a week after paychecks were issued.
“For the first time ever, part-time faculty and our full-time colleagues will share a unified pay scale,” Shirlee Geiger, contract administration officer for the majority faculty with the union, wrote in that email. “And while this is a huge step forward for campus equity, you may have noticed a problem in its implementation.”
Geiger wrote that some part-time faculty members may have seen a “slight decrease” in their hourly pay rate.
Denny said that communication came too late.
“They had known about this for a week,” Denny said. “People got their checks, and they were silent.”
Another frustration Denny had with the effects of the new contract is a change in the hours required of part-time faculty members to move up a pay step.
Previously, part-time faculty had to accrue 400 “contact hours” to get a step increase. With the new contract, part-time faculty members now have to reach 500 contact hours to increase a step — that’s the estimated average amount of hours full-time faculty members teach per year in order to get an automatic, annual step increase.
“If we’re going to have pay parity on the salary schedule, we need to have parity in how many hours they’re teaching,” Goulard said. He said that was one of the agreements the union and PCC had come to.
Denny said it’s unrealistic for part-time faculty members to hit that 500 contact hour mark every year, so she doubts many part-time faculty members will be able to get a step increase annually.
Goulard said while salaries will fluctuate throughout the course of the contract, it’s expected that part-time faculty members will see salary increases overall. Regardless, he said the union is attempting to get the college to come to an agreement to return part-time faculty who saw cuts to those old pay rates before the end of this term.
Denny said she has withdrawn her union membership. She said she’s been part of collective bargaining teachers unions since 2002.
“I’ve always been supportive of this, but the silence that they’ve shown is extremely concerning. It’s concerning on both ends,” she said. “My employer should tell me if my pay goes down. The union knew. That’s information that should have been told and shared and released as soon as somebody knew.”