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Hillsborough Community College and its faculty spar over pay

A union study showed average faculty salaries at Hillsborough Community College remain below the Florida College System average. It also found that starting salaries are below that of Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas county public school teachers. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Gina Oviedo-Martinez, a librarian and faculty member at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, said she’s dreamed about her job since she was 10.

She earned tenure in 2021 after 15 years of working in libraries, interacting with the college’s underserved students.

But as the faculty union and administration work through an impasse over pay issues, Oviedo-Martinez, like her other full-time colleagues, has wondered what more she can do to make ends meet.

She sold her car and got a more energy-efficient one, gave up vacations for the past three years and took out a home equity loan.

“I don’t want to be complaining about everything, but everyone else is getting raises,” she said.

It’s unclear where the pay dispute is headed next.

Administrators have proposed returning to the bargaining table. They had previously proposed a salary equity study, but did not pledge to make changes based on the results. And while the faculty union has agreed to a meeting, its members don’t expect it to result in a good faith proposal, said Richard Gaspar, the union’s chief negotiator.

“We’re hoping to be able to resolve this amicably still,” said Ashley Arthur Thomas, executive director of marketing and public relations for the college. “We are really committed and have been paying our faculty fairly and equitably within the confines of what we can.”

A study from the union showed average faculty salaries at the college remain below the Florida College System average. It also found that starting salaries are below that of Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas county public school teachers. Thomas suggested the study might not have made accurate comparisons, given differences in contract lengths.

The starting salary for HCC faculty is $42,187, with an average salary of $58,367.

In 2016, the contract the union negotiated with the administration included a step pay system offering raises each year. While salary minimums haven’t changed since 2014 and maximums were bumped up by less than a percentage point in 2016, faculty said they were told last year there was no money for raises. But, they said, both administrators and staff received raises — the former by 30 percent to the minimum.

Thomas said there are only two revenue sources the school can use for faculty salary increases. One is tuition, and the university is committed to not raising it.

An email to faculty from HCC president Ken Atwater said the decline in enrollment following the pandemic has left the college short $17 million. It added that, except for 2021, faculty received a pay raise every year since the step system was implemented. A grievance hearing over last year’s pay is scheduled for Nov. 3.

The union also contends that faculty teaching laboratories or simulations are compensated at a lower level than those who teach with lectures.

That’s unfair, Gaspar said. It’s also led to fewer applicants for open positions, he said, or applicants dropping out once they hear about the pay.

“When it comes down to bringing in new young talent, they do have to look at the bottom line,” he said.

Oviedo-Martinez, the librarian, said she considered getting a second job, but her long commute makes it difficult.

Still, she said, there are aspects of her job that keep her at HCC — working with young adults at an institution that serves Hispanic students, helping those with special needs and working with older adults returning to school. She also loves hearing about students she’s helped who got A’s for the first time.

“That means a lot to me, more than money,” Oviedo-Martinez said. “If I worked in the private sector, I could make a lot more money. But I didn’t choose this profession to do that.”

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

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