|Posted on Wed, Mar. 14, 2007
Strike shuts CCP for 37,000 students
By David O'Reilly
Inquirer Staff Writer
THE 1,400 FACULTY AND support staff at the Community College of Philadelphia went on strike yesterday, forcing the college to cancel classes for 37,000 students until both sides can agree on a new contract.
The union called the strike late Monday after negotiators failed to reach a settlement. No date had been set for another round of meetings.
The last strike at the college was nine years ago, and lasted one week.
It was a noisy and sometimes raucous scene outside the Spring Garden Street campus yesterday as faculty and other employees waved picket signs, sang songs, shouted slogans, and urged motorists to honk in support.
"No contract! No work! No contract! No work," cried one gathering of employees.
"We are a justice-seeking peeeeeeople," three middle-age faculty members sang on a corner of 17th Street.
The administration did not cancel classes until midday, after several hundred students had made the trip to campus.
"All my teachers are out here," said Amen Brown, a 19-year-old freshman. "I just shook one of my teachers' hand. I want to learn, but they need to be treated right. So as long as we get our days back at the end... I'm all right with it."
"Most of the kids, it looks to me, are supporting the teachers," said 20-year-old Ty Briggs, a freshman.
Employees are seeking annual salary increases of 3.75 percent for five years; the college has offered increases that it says would average 3.62 percent over the same period.
"We are disappointed for our students," college president Stephen Curtis said late yesterday. He said the salary and health-care package that the college had offered Monday was its "best and final offer."
"What the administration is offering wouldn't keep up with inflation," countered assistant biology professor John Braxton, copresident of the faculty association. "We don't want to go backwards."
The average salary for a full-time teacher at the college is a little more than $55,000, said Karen R. Schermerhorn, an English professor and the other faculty copresident.
According to the Pennsylvania Board of Education's Web site, the college's full-time faculty earn about $5,000 less a year than the average for Philadelphia School District teachers.
The starting salary for instructors with a master's degree is $35,800, Schermerhorn said. "It's just not enough to attract qualified people in some fields," she said in an interview at the union's strike headquarters at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' offices across the street from the college.
Full professors with 17 years of experience earned $73,350 under the old contract.
Curtis said the college's offer was "very fair" because it accommodated the union's demand that the college fully fund all employees' medical coverage.
The college's offer of a 3.62 percent pay hike - while smaller than what the union hoped for - "reflects the costs of our medical package and other financial realities... . We only had so much in the pot to give in salaries," he said.
Among the fiscal realities, Curtis said, is that the City of Philadelphia contributes only 19 percent of the college's operating budget. Under the state formula, the commonwealth, the county, and tuitions are each supposed to provide for one-third of a community college's operating costs.
Curtis also defended himself against union criticism that he has failed to lobby City Council vigorously enough for more funding.
"The union goes with us to the city and to Harrisburg every year, and we cooperate well," Curtis said.
For several weeks, the union has taken out advertisements in newspapers to complain that the administration refuses to divulge details of its operating budget or Curtis' salary.
"Every year we give the union the same budget information we give our board of directors," Curtis said.
Asked his salary, he replied: "$185,000."
He also defended the "branding" campaign to promote awareness of the college in the community and among business leaders.
"When I arrived in 1999, the faculty complained that we were not visible in the community, and our programs were not well-known," he said.
A subsequent survey confirmed that perception, as well as a "low recognition factor" among colleges that "didn't understand the training opportunities we provide."
The branding campaign, which includes banners around the campus and promotions to business, is designed to lay the groundwork for the college's first capital campaign, due to launch in the next year.
"We need visibility in the community so that when we approach donors, they know why we bring value," Curtis said.
At a Glance: Community College of Philadelphia
Faculty and staff: About 1,400.
Main campus:17th and Spring Garden Streets.
Salary for a starting instructor with a doctorate:$38,800. Mean salary in 2006 for all instructors: $40,104.
Salary for an assistant professor with a doctorate and 10 years of experience:$55,900. Mean salary in 2006 for all assistant professors: $55,900.
Salary for an associate professor with a doctorate and 10 years of experience: 57,100. Mean salary for associate professors: $65,339.
Salary for a full professor with a doctorate and 10 years of experience:$58,300. Mean salary for full professors: $69,029.
Average salaries for the faculties at:
Montgomery County Community College:$61,143.
Community College of Allegheny County:$55,931.
Bucks County Community College:$57,385
Reading Area Community College:$49,233.
SOURCES: Community College of Philadelphia's Web site; Faculty Federation of the Community College of Philadelphia
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or email@example.com. Inquirer staff writer Peter Mucha contributed to this article.
© 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources.