By ARDEN BASTIA On Dec. 17, 2020 the union representing education support professionals at the Community College of Rhode Island voted no confidence in President Meghan Hughes and Associate Vice President Alix Ogden, citing recent layoffs and poor
On Dec. 17, 2020 the union representing education support professionals at the Community College of Rhode Island voted no confidence in President Meghan Hughes and Associate Vice President Alix Ogden, citing recent layoffs and poor management.
“Our members are the lowest paid employees at CCRI, yet we have been the most severely impacted from your administration’s poor institutional management. While 16 percent of our members’ jobs have been eliminated, high-level administrator positions have ballooned on your watch,” wrote Michael McNally, president of the CCRI Educational Support Professionals Association (ESPA), in a letter to Hughes and Ogden.
“These workers you have chosen to eliminate from our college community, are the first people the students see or speak to when they come to CCRI or inquire about attending. We are the people processing student applications for enrollment, registering and scheduling students for their placement tests, assisting with their financial aid, scheduling them to meet with academic advisors, registering them for their classes, helping them with prerequisite and class-capacity overrides in all academic departments…and all other technology needs,” wrote McNally. “We are often the first face of CCRI that a student will see in the morning and the last face they see when they leave at night.”
To regain the confidence of the CCRI ESPA members, McNally wrote that leadership must engage in dialogue with the union, assure the 26 workers who were reassigned to the COVID task force at the Department of Health that they have jobs to which they can return, and treat the entire membership with the dignity and respect they deserve.
In response to the vote, CCRI released a statement from Hughes. “As a result of the pandemic and a significant decline in our enrollment revenue, which accounts for more than half of our overall funding, CCRI has faced unprecedented financial pressure. In response, the college instituted extensive cost saving measures to bring the budget into balance. These steps included a reduction in pay for senior administration staff, a freeze in filling non-critical vacancies, consolidation of course offerings, a reduction in overtime, support for the Council on Postsecondary Education’s decision not to provide budgeted salary increases for Council employees, and negotiated deferrals of salary increases for some bargaining units.”
The college laid off 122 part-time employees in all, including members of CCRI’s Professional Staff Association (PSA) in addition to ESPA members.
But McNally isn’t impressed with how things have been handled. In an interview, McNally said there was “no discussion with the union” before the layoffs happened.
“There were no concessions mentioned from administration. I really wish the administration would have come to the union first,” said McNally.
McNally was alerted to the layoffs about a month before they happened, and sent a proposal to work out pensions and mitigating the layoffs, but the college never responded. At this time, there hasn’t been any discussion of accepting any concessions, explained McNally, and the college “refused to rescind the layoffs.”
“We still feel like our members voices haven’t been heard by the college,” said McNally, explaining that the college has gone through the state to contact ESPA instead of communicating with the union directly.
In his 19 years at CCRI, McNally has never seen layoffs of this magnitude. “When I started, there was one president and three vice presidents. Now, there’s one president and six vice presidents, and countless deans,” with an increase in “top-heavy, high-paying” administrative positions.
Even though Hughes, in her response, stated that CCRI would freeze fulfilling vacant positions, there are currently job openings for the Dean of Business, Science, Technology, and Math, as well as the Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, payroll manager, and assistant to the director of human resources. “I’m disappointed this is what we’re choosing to do,” said McNally.
What worries McNally more is the “trickle-down” effect that will eventually impact CCRI students. “There’s not as much now, since many classes are virtual, but once we get back to in-person classes, a lot of positions have been cut and that’ll impact students. We are the workers who ensure the students have the correct books and supplies, we keep the campuses clean and safe, and we set up and maintain all academic labs,” said McNally.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Tim DelGiudice, chair of the Rhode Island Council for Postsecondary Education, expressed his “unwavering support for President Meghan Hughes and Associate Vice President Alix Ogden.”
“Throughout this pandemic, President Hughes has kept the Council informed of the financial challenges and the measures necessary to meet those challenges. While we recognize the impact on employees, the Council fully supports the decisions made by President Hughes to bring the college’s budget back into balance.”
DelGiudice called ESPA’s actions “unfortunate, especially in light of the continuous and ongoing good-faith discussion between the college, the Council and the union leadership on ways to minimize the impact of the layoffs and other measures on its members.”
“We want to save the jobs at the college, not for selfish reasons, but for the students, everyone has a role they play at the college,” said McNally. “It’s hard watching them hire new people for administrative positions while so many of us are still laid off. I’m not really sure how they expect things to happen without the support staff.”