By Ron Levesque
Hired in 1996 to teach English at Evergreen Valley College, Steven Mentor has come to know our college district well, but since becoming union president in 2022, he has learned so much more about its strengths and weaknesses, and its potential. He is currently involved in challenging negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). He participated in the previous negotiations as an observer when he was vice president, and, he explained, this prepared him well for this round when he is more involved. Yet the newest challenge is that the District’s negotiating team includes a legal firm new to this district as well as a new lead negotiator. A major stumbling block as always, he says, has been administration narratives of district finances being potentially in crisis. However, an independent analysis of district revenues by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) reveals that District reserves in 20/21 were at 29%, which is way above the State Chancellor’s office recommendation of 17% and even farther past the SJECCD Board policy of 7%. And reserves for FY 2022-23 are estimated at 24%. If the union and administration sides cannot agree on financial reality, how can honest bargaining occur at all? Compounding the process is the lack of a permanent chancellor as one interim has now led to a second interim. Also, the Board of Trustees has delayed filling an open seat till the fall of 2023.
Steven is proud of the “wins” the AFT union has chalked up in recent years. These include achieving lab-lecture parity, increased adjunct faculty salaries, and an ongoing campaign for healthcare for associate faculty and their dependents, not to ignore union involvement and success in local SJECCD Board of Trustee elections. Remaining challenges deal with resolving inequities and the rash cancelling of some non-instructional assignments (NIAs), ensuring fair evaluation of faculty, and navigating the digital landscape of modern teaching and its effect on work conditions.
Steven observes that the colleges have experienced “work creep.” The workload of faculty has steadily increased. On top of instruction, there is demand for more data review, often online. Then the program review process has been accelerated. And assessment of student learning outcomes (SLOs) is very time-consuming. Steven has called for more support for faculty as well as greater focus on student learning.
With the lack of long-term tenure among the college presidents and the chancellor, many staying only three to five years, there is a vacuum of steady leadership and a vision for the college district. Steven believes this gap presents an opportunity for the development of a faculty-led and student-centered vision for instruction on campus. He envisions a more-engaged faculty (“building the bench,” he labels it) to transform our current service model to one of activism and organizing.
Steven is also calling for greater oversight of the investments by CalSTRS and CalPERS pension funds. There is a lack of transparency about investment losses as well as a lack of strong argument for divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in future-oriented profitable alternatives. To that end, Steven seeks to engage retirees in the vital effort to protect pensions.
With union leaders like Steven Mentor, there is a clear path forward to a more secure, exciting, and rewarding learning environment for faculty and students, and more constructive interactions with administrative leadership that is less top-heavy.