A view of St. Petersburg College's Gibbs campus in St. Petersburg. The school's board of trustees, meeting on Aug. 9, 2022, voted against giving adjunct faculty more compensation in the form of a fee and a bonus. [ Times (2019) ]

The St. Petersburg College board of trustees voted Tuesday to side with administrators and reject a special magistrate’s decision that favored the adjunct faculty union in a contract dispute.

After 2½ years of negotiations that went to impasse over two issues, board members expressed concerns about fiscal prudence, said they didn’t want to favor adjuncts over full-time faculty, and struck the items from the union’s first contract.

Adjuncts make up nearly 70% of the college’s faculty.

The two points at issue are a $150 fee to compensate adjuncts for their preparation time when courses are canceled within two weeks of starting and a one-time bonus of $500 per semester for adjuncts who taught during Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 during the pandemic. The dispute was turned over to a special magistrate for the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission, who ruled for the union on both issues.

The administration recommended rejecting the ruling, and both sides presented their cases to the board on Tuesday.

“The SPC adjunct position is that an employer should pay people when they work, and that’s not a particularly controversial position to take,” said Terrie Lee, an adjunct professor of natural sciences who spoke along with Rick Smith, an organizer and chief negotiator for Service Employees International Union.

The fee is one that every other college and university offers, union organizer Javan Frinks said.

But Mark Levitt, a lawyer representing SPC, argued it would be unfair to offer the fee to adjuncts and not full-time faculty. He added that faculty didn’t need to prepare much if common syllabi were used.

Smith argued that adjuncts have seen no wage increases in five years and that SPC could afford the pandemic bonuses.

On Tuesday, board of trustees member Deveron Gibbons motioned to go with the college’s recommendations against the magistrate, but said he was not anti-union.

“Adjunct professors at SPC are not mistreated,” he said. “In fact, they make a good wage — some of the highest wages in the state.”

Gibbons added that adjuncts know what they’re signing up for and he compared their negotiating position to another situation. “It would be like me taking a job at Walmart as a greeter but then I wanted to be a store manager,” he said.

Trustee Katherine Cole said adjuncts are valued and the trustees’ decision was not adversarial. “These are just getting the college to a financially stable and operational path we’re all comfortable with,” she said.

The one-year contract now must be ratified by the union and then the board. The union will begin negotiations for the next contract within nine months.

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.