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BC3 votes again to reject support staff wage increases

Butler County Community College sign
Third-party report recommended raises

BUTLER TWP — Two union members representing Butler County Community College’s secretarial and clerical employees addressed trustees at a board meeting Wednesday, April 17, before members unanimously voted against recommendations for wage increases.

As per labor laws, the meeting presented a second opportunity for the board to vote on a fact-finding report issued earlier this month by a third-party arbitrator.

On Tuesday, the union called for trustees to reconsider their initial rejection on April 10 and vote in favor of the report that was ordered by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in February.

As Kristen Schooley, secretary to the director of lifelong learning and vice president of BC3’s Education Support Professionals PSEA/NEA addressed the board, she referred to support staff as “the first impression of the college” and noted a large part of its membership are BC3 alumni. Schooley, who has worked in her role for nearly 15 years, is herself a BC3 graduate, she said, as are her grandparents and mother.

“The process of negotiating, while the expectation was that it would not be easy, has been tedious, exhausting and a gut punch to morale,” Schooley said. “The rejection of the fact finder’s report is not only a rejection to us, but also to our families, friends and community members.”

The board’s decision Wednesday to reject the report continues a labor dispute of about two years, as the parties have reached a stalemate.

According to chief negotiator Brooke Witt, the union has been attempting to reach a new contract since January 2023.

In October, the college presented the union with a final contract proposal, which the union rejected, deeming the compensation inadequate after taking “minimal” pay raises during and after COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the terms in the college’s offer, such as a retirement incentive and three days personal leave, were included in the fact-finder’s report, which was ultimately rejected Wednesday because of disagreements around overall costs and wage increases.

According to BC3 representatives, the report must be accepted or rejected in its entirety.

Witt said Tuesday the union’s remaining options are to revisit the college’s final contract proposal or authorize a strike.

College solicitor Mike Hnath said the college’s offer has technically expired, but that it would be a point of discussion with support staff.

“The board would hope that they would revisit the offer and we get back to the table with them,” he said.

“We’ve previously settled for less, confident our sacrifices would be recognized when we (went) back to the table for the next contract negotiation,” Schooley told the board. “It seems abundantly clear that the sacrifices are (made) in futility.”

Marcia Ringeisen, admissions office secretary and union president, also addressed the board during public comment, expressing concern over the board’s decision to reject what she referred to as “modest raises.”

Ringeisen said no efforts have been made by the college to promote longevity in support staff roles. She noted she wanted support staff to receive consideration for wage increases equal to that of the faculty.

“We don’t feel we are any better than anyone else,” Ringeisen said. “We certainly are not less. We have been a silent, hardworking, dedicated group. We will continue to be a hardworking, dedicated group. But we will no longer be silent.”

BC3’s budget deficit

The board’s decision comes as the college projects a budget deficit and is trying to enact financial constraints.

Some of the factors contributing to the deficit include a 26% drop in enrollment following the COVID-19 pandemic, unpaid student tuition and rising health insurance costs.

In July, health insurance costs will increase by 9%, according to BC3 representatives. Health insurance costs increased by 14% from last July.

Additionally, the college has experienced a 37% decline in credit enrollment since 2014, which BC3 representatives note is “similar to that of other community colleges in Pennsylvania.”

“We have not recovered to what I would say are our pre-COVID levels from an enrollment perspective,” Jim Hrabosky, vice president for Administration and Finance, said after the meeting. “What that has done is put an extreme amount of pressure on the budget because we’ve not been able to reduce expenses accordingly. Our revenues have dropped as a result of the loss in enrollment.”

Nick Neupauer, BC3 president, said the “worst case scenario” the college is predicting projects a $2.9 million deficit. Hrabosky said that deficit will likely be smaller.

“This is a scenario where every dollar would be spent,” Hrabosky said. “We know for a fact that does not happen. So we work our way backwards in trying to see what our real deficit is going to be.”

Last year, the college’s budget deficit was $1.6 million, Hrabosky said.

During the meeting, Neupauer told the board financial constraints have helped alleviate some of the burden from the deficit.

“We’re starting to bite into that number,” Neupauer told the board.

“We had two years to address this budget deficit, and I’m very pleased that we’re addressing this budget deficit with some time to go,” he said.

Neupauer noted previous presidents have addressed budget deficits with layoffs.

“This institution, endorsed by the Board of Trustees, trusted me as president and the administration as a whole to come up with a plan to shrink that number, and we’re shrinking that,” he said. “I feel very confident that in two years the budget gap is going to be closed.”

“I’m very proud of these financials here,” Neupauer said. “It comes with great sacrifice for not filling positions and everything that goes with it.”

Discussions around not replacing certain vacant positions began after the pandemic, Hrabosky said. Not all positions would be left vacant, he said, noting that mission-critical positions, such as faculty nursing positions, would be replaced in the event of a retirement.

“We’re not doing that with every position,” Hrabosky said. “I want to stress that we are going through a process that is related to mission and this goes directly to the president, the president in the HR office, as well as the department supervisor. They all have input in whether certain positions are getting replaced.”

“Dr. Neupauer uses a term — ‘doing more with less’ — and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

The union said as some positions have been left vacant, remaining support staff have had to take on additional duties.

The purchasing department, which is Hrabosky’s purview, should staff between three and four people, but is down two positions.

“With less students there, there has been some relief on the work end, because we’re not serving as many students,” Hrabosky said.

“We’re just trying to work collaboratively between if there is a retirement in one area or department, no matter what group that employee might be in, whether they’re a union member or nonunion member, a faculty member or (clerical employee),” Hrabosky said. “In some instances where a faculty member might retire and there may not be demand on the student side … that might just be the opportunity … to try to do things differently. And that’s how we see some savings is the fact that we’re not replacing those positions.”

COVID Funds

On Tuesday, Witt said the union felt compensation offered by the college was minimal, as the college received $12.2 million in federal stimulus money in January 2021.

Hrabosky said Wednesday the $12 million in federal funds represented the total amount received in three payments through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Of that money, $6 million was exclusively earmarked for students, he said, and could not be used for another purpose.

In the past, those federal funds had been used in part to pay off unpaid student tuition, he said, which would have had an impact on the deficit.

Both Hrabosky and Hnath said the college’s emergency relief funds have been depleted.

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