Some University of the District of Columbia faculty members, upset over stalled contract negotiations, are saying that with the matter at a standstill, they are no further ahead now than they were three years ago when negotiations began.

According to group spokesman Mohammad El Kawas, a biology professor at the city-operated, open-admissions university, its labor union began new contract negotiations in September 2007.El Kawas said that as they moved through the process several incidences of unfair labor practices evolved which eventually led to mediation.

“We even got the executive director of human relations board to mediate and he advised us,” El Kawas told the AFRO during an Oct. 21 interview. “In July we issued an agreement and I took it to the faculty and they ratified it,” he continued. “But last week, the board of trustees decided not to ratify it.”

El Kawas said the situation also impacts other city employees, noting that the city has a law that “basically throws out” any salary increases or cost of living hikes for the current fiscal year.

“And that affects every city agency, including UDC,” said El Kawas, adding that the faculty’s contract is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2008 and runs through Sept. 3, 2012.
He said even if faculty members don’t get the 3 percent increase agreed upon, as a unionized body, they would have no objection.

“In fact, I offered them some options that they considered and told them I was willing to listen to what they have to put on the table,” said El Kawas. “They never really came back and then all of a sudden I found out that the board did not ratify the contract that we initiated.”El Kawas said that as a result, the faculty felt as if “they turned the clock back to where we were two-and-a-half years ago.”

UDC spokesman Allen Etter explained that Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. City Council collaborated on the law mentioned by El Kawas and that it effectively freezes salary increases for all District workers.

“It’s not that UDC stopped negotiating or anything like that, it’s that we were obliged to not negotiate,” Etter said. He said UDC was actually working on a bridge agreement that would keep the talks open. “And of course, that’s what want to do,” Etter said. “But when the law came into effect it negated those efforts.”

Etter also said faculty members want to move toward the next step which would be full collective bargaining. When that might take place, Etter responded, he did not know. “But it’s pretty much up to the courts,” he said. “They will have to determine when that can happen, although we would prefer it to be sooner than later.”

UDC touts itself as a comprehensive public institution that prepares students for immediate placement in the workforce.

Currently expanding its Northwest Washington campus to the old Bertie Baccus Elementary School in Northeast, the university listed among its immediate personnel requirements in a September 2008 report an intent to increase salaries not only for faculty members but also for department chairpersons and deans.

But last year, as the long-troubled university struggled for autonomy from city government and resisted allegations of ineffective leadership surrounding President Allen Sessoms, UDC shut down the undergraduate education department, which enrolled fewer than 400 students. Among the reasons provided for the closing was that the department was not forward-thinking enough in its approach for training teachers and that it had failed to graduate far too many students.