Claims for back pay in college faculty salary settlement cross $100,000 mark


IMG_1945.JPGWhen Maire Sustacek began serving as faculty coordinator for the science and math departments at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, she noticed something seemed off on her paycheck.

“I saw how my pay calculation changed over time,” she said. “First it was calculated as contract hours, then went to credits. I noticed the change and got in contact with my local chapter and grievance rep.”

Sustacek was not alone in seeing how her pay rate changed for different portions of her work, and because of that, the Minnesota State College Faculty union started filing grievances with the Minnesota State system office.

According to MSCF, a number of colleges were not accurately calculating workload and the associated pay for certain faculty with certain assignments including flex labs, reasonable credit equivalence, independent studies, internships, combined classes, science labs and mentoring. The colleges were calculating workload by credits only or contact hours only, in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

“Workers expect to be treated fairly,” said Matt Williams, MSCF’s new president. “Our job here was to hold our employer accountable for treating workers fairly. The way the employer elected to interpret the contract meant them not paying for a certain type of work.”

The union started filing grievances in 2010. MSCF proceeded to binding arbitration in 2016. The arbitrator ruled that Minnesota State violated the collective bargaining agreement and required back pay to the affected faculty.

“Once we heard about the arbitration, we went back to my admins and they said, no we’re not going to do that,” said Sustacek. “Throughout this whole time, it was really discouraging and disheartening to me to see my pay get cut.”

Throughout the next year, MSCF unsuccessfully attempted to get Minnesota State to fully comply with the arbitration award. The union then filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Minnesota State committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to comply with the valid decision of an arbitrator.

“The arbitrator said, you can’t pay one person and not pay another person,” said Williams. “The system office, a government entity, refused to abide by the arbitrator.”

The lawsuit was finally resolved in May, and the settlement agreement finalizes the arbitration award and provides a mechanism for providing back pay to affected individuals for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. The settlement also mandated that the system make certain changes to ensure that it correctly compensates its faculty in the future.

Minnesota State faculty who qualify for the settlement will be able to submit claims to the system office. The office will review the claims and pay out any approved claims, up to a maximum of $1.9 million.

The union estimates the settlement will directly affect between 180 and 700 instructors. Under terms of the agreement, faculty members must file a claim for back pay by Oct. 31, 2019.

“This is really complicated,” said Williams. “The union is here to understand it all and help you through it. We do such a wide array of stuff—distance learning, internships—there’s no easy way to calculate it.”

MSCF staff and leadership have been hosting one-on-one meetings with members throughout the summer and plan to continue these meetings around the state this fall.

As of press time, the union has held 70 meetings, which resulted in 20 claims totaling $105,923.36. The average value of the claims is $5,885.

“This is the value of belonging,” said Williams. “We’re in this and are having face-to-face conversations with everyone to make sure they were paid honestly for what they worked.”

Sustacek scheduled a meeting and was prepared for a long, tedious process, but after logging into the system to see what she was paid and what she worked, Williams and MSCF field staff Matt Ryg had her claim figured out in less than a half-hour.

Sustacek will be asking the Minnesota State system office for more than $20,000 in back pay for the four semesters in which she held science labs and worked as both a faculty coordinator and chair of the Academic Affairs and Standards Council.

“It means a lot to me to get recognition for the roles that I have taken on that are non-academic. These are often roles that admins are struggling to fill. To take a pay cut to do this roles felt really bad. This is a recognition that these roles are significant and helpful and take a significant amount of work,” she said.
But the dollar amount is significant as well, Sustacek said.

“I have two young kids. When my compensation isn’t what it should be, we have to make financial choices that can impact them,” she said.

For Sustacek, this experience has solidified her as a proud union member.

“When I first became a faculty, I joined the union because why not,” she said. “I thought though, I’m not a troublemaker, I probably won’t need this. But I did need it, and not in the way I would have guessed.”

“I was encouraged to see the work that my union was doing on my behalf. Many of us as faculty have had individual conversations with admins about issues that go nowhere because it’s just one particular issue, and we don’t have the time to follow up on those conversations. Without all those people backing me up, I don’t think I would have ever gotten a resolution.”

For Williams, this has solidified his belief in the power of the union and why he wants to be a leader.

“This is what we do. This is what we exist for,” he said. “No one is asking for a cent more than what they honestly worked. We had an agreement that we respect and honor with our employer, and we hope they feel the same.”

For more information about the workload settlement, including a workload calculator and information on upcoming meetings, go to www.mscfmn.org/workload-settlement.

PHOTO CUTLINE
Then-MSCF President Kevin Lindstrom signed the salary settlement agreement in May, after nine years of grievances, arbitration and a lawsuit