‘Morale doesn’t pay the bills’: Hillsborough Community College faculty, administration at impasse over pay talks

If the impasse is not withdrawn, then it will—like the union’s last grievance—go to arbitration for resolution.

click to enlarge ‘Morale doesn’t pay the bills’: Hillsborough Community College faculty, administration at impasse over pay talks
Photo via HCC/Facebook
As the Tampa Bay region continues to grapple with high inflation and bloated housing costs, full-time faculty at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) say the college administration won’t agree to sufficient pay raises for faculty, despite OK-ing pay hikes for college administrators and non-faculty staff.

Full-time faculty at HCC, represented by the Faculty United Service Association (FUSA) are calling on the college’s district board of trustees to offer a better deal for faculty and their families so they can afford to continue teaching.

“I love my job,” Gina Oviedo Martinez, a Faculty Librarian at HCC’s Dale Mabry campus, told the district board of trustees, the college’s governing body, in August. “Counting inflation, in real dollars I am making $10,000 less than when I started working toward tenure. That is an astounding cut in pay. I am losing money every year.”

The faculty union, affiliated with the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and the Florida Education Association (FEA), told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay they’ve reached an impasse with the board over a contract dispute.

An “impasse” occurs when negotiations between an employer and labor union on wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment have failed to result in a mutual agreement.

The FUSA, representing about 334 full-time faculty at HCC, says the impasse is driven by disagreement on faculty pay, including the loss of a pay step in the last school year, and wage inequity between faculty who teach lecture classes versus those who teach laboratories, clinicals, and simulations (collectively referred to as “labs”).

Last month, about 70 faculty attended the college’s Board of Trustees August meeting, packing the board room, per the union. Ten faculty provided public comment, in an effort to appeal to the board directly, said Dr. Richard Gaspar, a communications professor at HCC who’s chief negotiator for his union.

“HCC faculty salaries remain below the Florida College System average,” the union wrote in an August press release. “The administration continues to state no funds are available. However, both the administrator and staff pay grade ranges have increased since 2017. The Administrative pay ranges were increased from 2019 – 2022, with an average of 30% increase to the salary minimums.”
According to the union, the minimum entry-level pay for a faculty position at HCC is $42,187 — more than $5,000 less than the minimum salaries of Hillsborough County Schools’ K-12 teachers (who have different contractual requirements), and more than $6,000 less than the $48,517 minimum salary for Miami Dade College faculty.

Meanwhile, the minimum entry-level pay for an administrative dean position at HCC is $94,498.75.

“While the administration has enjoyed raises to keep their salaries competitive with other academic institutions, faculty who are the essential part of a college, have seen no search raises,” Christopher Lue, a professor in HCC’s chemistry department, told the board. “The college has refused to pay the most recent step increase in faculty salaries, which has resulted in arbitration.”

A step pay system, first implemented at HCC in 2016, establishes employee pay based on the level of difficulty, responsibility, and qualifications required for a position—as well as seniority.

But faculty says that in recent years, the college — which serves over 47,000 students annually at its five campuses — hasn’t budgeted or prioritized annual step increases that actually make this system work. Martinez, the faculty librarian, said a tenured position at HCC—a position she recently achieved this spring—has been her “dream job” since she was a kid. She feels at home at the college, that she’s making a real difference in people’s lives.

But she’s had step increases delayed or withheld for four years now, and says it’s having a detrimental effect on her family and way of life.

“I am going into my fourth year wondering if I will have money to fix my house,” Martinez told the board in August. “I am borrowing against my house to meet living expenses, and I am worried about how I will take on a second job with the long commute I already have.”

Martinez, who lives in Pasco County, said she can’t afford to live in Hillsborough, not on her current salary. She has three college students living at home with her and her husband, who recently sold his car for one with better gas mileage. They’ve remortgaged their home, and took out a home equity loan to keep up with rising inflation.

“I am humiliated to be standing here begging for money like a panhandler with a masters degree in one hand and specialist degree in the other,” said Martinez. “Morale can only carry us so far, it does not pay the bills.”

Ashley Carl, a spokesperson for HCC, told CL that they’ve offered full-time faculty a step for this school year during negotiations, which would cost the college about $430,000. They’ve also offered an opportunity to reopen salary talks in 2023 and 2024.

Still, that doesn’t address the loss of a step last year—the subject of a grievance that’s set for arbitration in November.

The administration says it lacks the funds to meet the union’s call. Student enrollment at HCC is down 13% from pre-pandemic levels, Carl said. Since 2020, the college has lost over $17 million in tuition revenue. “During the pandemic, no one had any salary increases,” Carl told CL, adding that all HCC employees, faculty included, did receive a one-time $2,000 payment, thanks to federal higher education grants the college received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the board approved a wage boost for full-time administrative staff (i.e. not faculty), ensuring they receive a $16 minimum wage, to keep up with the “competitive labor market.”

They also approved the latest administrator salary increase—a pay bump that was meant to go into effect last year. But that, too, was delayed due to “a lack of funding during the pandemic,” according to board meeting documents.

Still, minimum administrator pay remains well above that of full-time faculty, who haven’t seen a significant salary increase in years. Adjunct faculty, who make up about 80% of the college’s total faculty, are unionized with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
After the full-time faculty union declared impasse in August, the administration came back to faculty with a new proposal. Not to offer that lost pay step, but to have an independent third-party conduct a salary study in the Spring of 2023 to compare HCC faculty salaries to those of faculty at other comparably-sized colleges.

But, there’s no guarantee of what would come from the study’s findings. According to the union, while the college has offered to fund the salary study, it hasn’t committed to funding the implementation of the study to address any wage discrepancies that are found.

More than that, Gaspar, the union’s chief negotiator, told CL the salary study proposal from the administration is also contingent upon the union withdrawing their impasse and agreeing not to raise the pay scale.

Carl, the HCC spokesperson, told CL they place a high value on the work of faculty, and that they want them to be paid fairly.

But faculty members say they don’t see that showing up in their paychecks. And in order to recruit and retain their existing faculty, they need the administration to offer a better deal.

“I never thought that being tenured, with 21 years at the same institution, I would still be concerned about providing for my family,” Jeremy Bullian, a full-time faculty librarian at HCC’s Ybor City campus, and vice president of FUSA, told the board in August. “Faculty are now left wondering why the administration devalues them.”

Given what they describe as a “lack of a genuine offer” from the administration, full-time faculty plan to show up again to the board’s next meeting on Sept. 28 to plead their case for a fair offer from the administration.

“If the Administration is sincere in wanting to return to the bargaining table and end the impasse, then they need to come with a new economics proposal and offer to make more progress in providing [a] much needed increase to faculty salaries now,” Sheryl Sippel, a math professor and FUSA President, told union membership in an email forwarded to CL.

If the impasse is not withdrawn, then it will—like the union’s last grievance—go to arbitration for resolution.

About The Author

McKenna Schueler

McKenna Schueler is a freelance journalist based in Tampa, Florida. She regularly writes about labor, politics, policing, and behavioral health. You can find her on Twitter at @SheCarriesOn and send news tips to [email protected].

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