Responding to an invitation from President Jim Werner, Westchester County Executive George Latimer met with WCCFT members at our regularly scheduled meeting on February 2. The county’s number one official brought with him a reputation for efficiency and fair-mindedness that was amply reflected in Jim’s introduction, which expressed our gratitude to Mr. Latimer for coming to address the union membership and called him a “truly outstanding and tireless county leader,” as well as a “staunch advocate for public education.”
The popular executive—who has never lost an election in a political career that began in 1987—launched his remarks with some biographical information. Growing up in Mount Vernon, he found that the city’s public schools opened doors for him, thus laying the groundwork for his belief that supporting public education “ensures the future better than any capital project.” He told the audience that his post-high school studies—he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Fordham and a Master’s in Public Administration at NYU—gave him the crucial ability to think critically.
Moving to his role in WCC’s history, Latimer said he believes in granting much independence to the College, reminding listeners that when he first took office in January 2018, he immediately placed the newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement under the purview of the County Board of Legislators and will do so again for the next contract. “We’re not going to sit in judgment on your proposed contract,” he said. “We’re not going to diminish the work of our work force.”
“We’re not going to sit in judgment on your proposed contract,” he said. “We’re not going to diminish the work of our work force.”
In a Q&A period, the county leader faced some probing questions that centered mainly on conditions experienced by adjuncts at WCC. Union Vice-President Deirdre Verne, full-time faculty member in the Business Department, led off by stating that “WCC uses an outdated system to calculate hours of service by part-time faculty. As a result, they cannot participate in the NY State Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). They cannot vest under this system.” This point was later reinforced by adjunct WCCFT member Noreen van Valkenburgh, who added, “Other counties give us 25 days of service credit per course, but WCC gives us only six credited days. This greatly affects adjuncts. TRS looks at number of days sent to Albany. We need the county to re-calculate each course in order to send it to Albany.”
In separate responses to these questions, Latimer sent his personal email to President Jim Werner, saying “This is my first exposure to the issue, so we will plan to do a conference call. I will include [Deputy County Executive] Ken Jenkins and other members of my executive staff. We will try to see how far we can get.” He later suggested, in response to van Valkenburgh, that this issue might also get shared with senior state legislators such as Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and that TRS might be called on to require greater standardization across New York campuses.
Eric De Sena, the WCCFT Executive Committee member specifically charged with representing adjuncts, reminded the county executive that adjuncts represent two-thirds of the WCC faculty and have the same credentials as full-time faculty but are paid considerably less and are not eligible for benefits. “Would the county,” he asked, “be willing to explore possible ways to upgrade the status of all these part-time faculty?”
Latimer responded: “I am concerned when you rely primarily on adjunct faculty. We should move more part-time faculty into full-time status and use adjuncts in the manner in which they were originally hired. Maybe if we promised the college more money, the college could see a way to do this.”
“I am concerned when you rely primarily on adjunct faculty. We should move more part-time faculty into full-time status and use adjuncts in the manner in which they were originally hired. Maybe if we promised the college more money, the college could see a way to do this.”
Counselor Laura Milhaven said that there is now an 18-month gap between the granting of a promotion and the pay increase that accompanies the promotion, a practice that did not happen during the previous administration. Latimer called this an unusual situation, saying “There is never that much of a lag time when other county employees are promoted.”
Jennifer Gurahian, an adjunct in the Social Sciences Department and Secretary of the WCCFT, said that an issue with the adjunct work force is no paid office hours or prep time, which “creates real structural constraints on how we are treated.”
“It sounds like a long series of issues that the union has discussed with the WCC administration. I would be happy to engage with my executive team in that conversation.”
In response, Latimer said that he was not personally involved in an academic setting and therefore was not fully familiar with the issues that had been raised. “It sounds like a long series of issues that the union has discussed with the WCC administration. I would be happy to engage with my executive team in that conversation.” Reminding the audience that the office of the County Executive has good relations with President Miles and the WCC Board of Trustees, Latimer said, “We will have to ask lots of questions…. We will cover all these issues and see what the economic and political implications are.”
Just before leaving, he added, “If it’s at the heart of our responsibilities, we’ll do what we can to be helpful concerning these issues.”