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Changes are coming for state college union workers if labor bill passes

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Northwestern Community College

If Connecticut’s legislature passes the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement this week, union workers at the state’s directional universities and community colleges will see changes toward their tenure track approval process and get additional paid maternity leave. The agreement does not apply to workers at the University of Connecticut.

The new contract language would give faculty the chance to pause their tenure approval process to accommodate major life changes. The tenure process typically takes about six to seven years, and a “pause” option has never existed in prior contracts, said Patty O’ Neill, president of the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors.

O’Neill was also the lead contract negotiator for the union, and she said the process has been difficult and contentious. But despite the challenges, O’Neill said the union’s goal was to create a more family-friendly environment for its workers, and that was achieved through the new agreement.

“For example, we were able to get language into the new agreement that allows people to delay the tenure approval process, which sometimes can put them at a disadvantage if something major happens in their lives,” she said. “This wasn’t something that they could do. Now that can happen.”

Another major change is allowing people to use medical leave for maternity-related issues. O’Neill said it was ridiculous to not have that kind of language included in a contract.

“Prior to the new agreement, people could request for maternity leave, but it would be unpaid,” she said. “Now you can request paid sick leave for maternity leave. So someone who gives birth doesn’t have to return to the classroom two weeks later because they only have some sick leave left.”

If the SEBAC bill passes, the new agreement will last four years. The wage framework also includes salary increases for both full-time and part-time faculty.

The agreement covers about 43,000 workers among 35 labor unions, including CSU-AAUP. O’Neill said if the bill passes, it’ll help the colleges continue to provide quality education for students from all backgrounds.

Leigh Appleby, spokesperson for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said they are pleased that after nearly a year and a half, they were able to come to terms on a set of contracts that balance the needs of both employees and management.

“Our negotiations were contentious and difficult, and labor and management disagreed strongly on various issues,” he said. “Yet we reached fair and equitable agreements, because we agree wholeheartedly that our institutions are critical to the lives of our students today and those that will come in the future. We urge legislators to support CSCU’s labor agreements.”

The state House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill by the end of the week.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.