Declaring a Financial Emergency - Q&A

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Financial Emergency Questions and Answers

There have been a number of questions about the potential action by the State Board for Community and Technical College’s (SBCTC) to declare a financial emergency. The following is an attempt to answer some of the questions that you may have, and hopefully to bring some clarity to what impact this has on your contract and what this means for you as faculty.

Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 28B.50.873 is the statute that empowers the SBCTC to declare a financial emergency. It sets the conditions under which a financial emergency can be declared and outlines a hearing process if you are to be riffed and it alters conditions in your collective bargaining agreement.

Q: Does the State Board benefit from declaring a financial emergency?

A: No, there is no impact on the SBCTC. This action by the Board authorizes the Colleges to adopt the declaration at each campus. It does not compel them to do so but many college presidents have been pushing for the declaration.

Q: Why would college presidents want the declaration?

A: The declaration would allow the colleges to begin expedited RIF processes for tenured faculty. That is the only purpose of the law. Declaring a “financial emergency” gives no other “flexibilities” to a college.

Q: What are the provisions of the statute?

A: The most devastating provision in the statute potentially guts RIF processes. The statute states “…It is the intent of the legislature by enactment of this section and in accordance with RCW 28B.52.035, to modify any collective bargaining agreements in effect… any reductions in force… will comply solely with the provisions of this section….” (NOTE: RCW 28B.52.035 deals with the length of contracts and seems to have little, if anything, to do with RIFs.) The one proviso is “…any applicable policies, rules, or provisions contained in a collective bargaining agreement related to lay-off units, seniority and re-employment rights shall not be affected by the provisions of this paragraph.

This clearly says that the only sections of your contract pertaining to RIF that stay in effect are those dealing with lay-off units, seniority, and recall rights. That's it. If you have language about the steps they need to go through before closing a program? Gone. Doesn't apply. Retraining language prior to RIF? Gone. Doesn't apply. Getting the picture?

As in a grievance, arguments could be made that would attempt to preserve your processes, but in most cases, our chances of prevailing would be poor.

Q: What about the rest of the contract?

A: The only provisions impacted would be those related to RIF. As simple as that may sound, it is wide reaching. For example, if you have language in your contract about what has to happen before closing a program, unless part of that process is tied to one of the three criteria above, it would be void. Many of the protections we have bargained against job loss would be voided by this statute.

Q: Does this make it easier to lay people off?

A: Yes, this statute compromises our contracts greatly.

Q: Can I be laid off before the end of my contract?

A: Yes. Once a determination is made to RIF an employee and they receive notice, they have ten (10) days to request a hearing. If no hearing is requested or a request is made after the timeframe, the layoff is effective the date given in the notice of RIF.

Q: What does the hearing do?

A: The statute outlines a hearing process but the only issue that can be considered at the hearing is whether or not you are the right person to be riffed, NOT the merits of the RIF. Whether or not you are the right person is directly tied to RIF units and seniority not whether your program is more viable than another.

Q: Do faculty have any rights?

A: Yes, but they are severely compromised by this law. Your rights regarding lay off are centered on seniority and placement on a RIF list or lists.

Q: What if I don’t ask for a hearing?

A: Your layoff would be effective the date given in the notice.

Q: What if I ask for a hearing? When would my layoff be effective?

A: If you ask for a hearing, your layoff would be effective after the hearing officer submits his/her findings and the board of trustees accepts it. The layoff would be effective immediately upon board action. The timelines for the hearing are set in the statute.

Q: Can everyone affected have a hearing?

A: Yes, sort of. Everyone who requests a hearing can have a hearing but if more than one faculty is affected, the hearings are combined into one hearing.

Q: What about probationary faculty? Does the tenure process continue?

A: No, this statute allows for riffing tenure and tenure track faculty in the same manner.

Q: What is the role of the tenure review committee if there is a hearing?

A: Their role is minimal as this is an adjudicative process. They can be there as observers and submit an advisory report to the board of trustees.

Q: Who presides at the hearing?

A: The hearing officer is an attorney who will conduct the hearing and prepare findings of fact/conclusions of law for consideration by your local board of trustees.

Q: Who selects the hearing officer? Who pays the cost of the hearing?

A:  The College selects the hearing officer and pays the related costs PROVIDED: if the individual or individuals involved want to have a say in the selection of the hearing officer, they pay one-half of the related cost.

Q: If I disagree with the hearing results, can I appeal?

A: Yes, an appeal in a court of law is an option. It is an expensive option and ultimately would be very limited in scope

Q: If I am riffed, can they hire part-time faculty to replace me?

A: There isn’t a definitive answer to this question. Inquiring minds are debating the issue with legal counsel. We believe there are arguments that could be made against it, but it would probably be decided on a case-by-case basis. The question will be: If you are a full time faculty on a recall list and the work available does not constitute “full time” do they have to offer it to you?  This is one area we will want to visit in contract language eventually.

Q: Can faculty not on state money (grants) be riffed?

A: It depends on how the grant is written and if that faculty member is placed on a RIF list. This is one that could depend on the circumstance and there isn’t one right answer.

Q: How long does a financial emergency last?

A: The statute is silent on this but it would appear that a financial emergency can be declared under set circumstances (a decrease in funding) in from one year to the next during a biennium or between biennium. We believe a financial emergency is limited by a fiscal year and does not carry over from one year to the next. 

Q: When will the SBCTC declare a financial emergency?

A: A special meeting was called for March 6 but the meeting was cancelled. We anticipate that it will be rescheduled when new projections are available.

Q: Is there anything we can do?

A:  Should the SBCTC decide again to vote on whether or not to declare a financial emergency, please call or write the members of the state board protesting their decision. (Please do not use your work computer.) You should also talk to your local president, your boards of trustees, and your state legislators.

It is also important to alert your members to this issue. Unless this action can be stopped, some of them will be at risk and they deserve the right to understand what might happen and to ask questions or write protests themselves if they so choose.

Here are the e-mail addresses of the SBCTC members:

Beth Willis – eaw34@comcast.net;bwillis@wtcta.org

Erin Mundinger (chair) emundinger@esd.wa.gov

Larry Brown (labor rep)

Jim Bricker Jim.bricker@pfcenter.com; val.gerst@pemco.com

Jim Garrison jgarris60@aol.com

Sharon Fairchild fairchs@psew.org

Tom Koenninger Koenninger@comcast.net

Executive Director Marty Brown mbrown@sbctc.edu