By NICK MEYERS
Two people argue over an orange. Each has good reasons for why they should get the orange but is unable to convince the other. Their solution is to split the orange. They later discover that one wanted only the rind and the other wanted only the juice.
“If they had actually had a conversation about what they needed, they could have had 100 percent of what they needed,” said Jeff Silvyn, Pima Community College’s general counsel.
This is the idea behind Pima’s annual Meet and Confer, a process in which employees and administrators meet to discuss employee needs and how the college can best meet those needs.
“It’s one of the interesting things about Pima,” Silvyn said. “Employees really do have an opportunity to have a significant impact on what the working conditions are like.”
Representatives from three employee groups began meeting with teams of administrators in January and will continue through April. In April, each employee team will present resolutions to the Board of Governors.
The three employee groups are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Association of Classified Exempt Staff and the PCC Education Association.
While Meet and Confer has been a Pima facet almost since the college’s inception, employee groups are focusing this year on a specific type of bargaining: interest-based negotiation.
Many methods may be employed during negotiations. The story about the orange illustrates the difference between positional bargaining and interest-based negotiation.
With a variety of topics to address, Pima hopes interest-based negotiation will bring beneficial outcomes for both employees and the college by defining the actual issues and discussing the true needs of both groups.
Members of the Board of Governors have also offered more direction this year than in the past.
Hal Melfi, vice-chairman of AFSCME, says more board involvement is a positive change.
“That’s a good thing because the board is our connection to the community at large,” he said. “It opens everything up.”
The governing board has tasked the Meet and Confer teams with two main focuses: minimizing personnel-related costs and planning for scenarios in which the budget is reduced by 5, 10 or 15 million dollars.
“The emphasis is always on providing student services,” Melfi said. “We talk about what’s in the best interest for the college.”
State budget cuts and decreased admission have throttled Pima’s spending ability. In Meet and Confer meetings this year, employees will focus largely on decreasing the amount of money spent on employees.
“It’s typical for a college or university that most of the budget goes towards personnel,” Melfi said. “So it’s always the most obvious place to start looking.”
Meet and Confer teams will also discuss sections of the Higher Learning Commission’s site evaluation report. While Pima has met accreditation standards, 11 of 20 sub-criteria were “met with concern.”
The HLC’s five main criteria focus on the college’s mission, integrity and ethical conduct, the quality of education, self-evaluation and Pima’s ability to fulfill its mission and improve in the future.
“As a result of that, there are probably changes that we need to make to change those from ‘meets with concern’ to just ‘meets,’” Silvyn said.
Employees and administrators will work on correcting the deficiencies. Some concerns have already been reviewed and approved, but the college will still look closely in order to verify compliance.
Each employee group has six members. They meet weekly or bi-weekly with a team of six board representatives.
The teams of administrators vary but always include Dan Berryman, Pima’s new vice chancellor for human resources, and Alison Colter-Mack, director of employee relations and policies.
“If you walked into most private sector employers, you wouldn’t see anything like this,” Silvyn said. “It’s not unique to Pima but in the bigger work world it’s unusual unless you’re in a true union.”
The process helps improve work conditions, Melfi said.
“All across the world people are saying, ‘I know I’m not going to get a raise,’ but to have working conditions that make work possible and even enjoyable, that goes a long way,” he noted.