By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor | Photo by Jonathan Baca
In the recently ratified contracts for full time and part time instructors, there is language that could be used to limit instructors’ ability to speak freely about “Union matters.”
The contracts forbid Union members from using college resources, including communication with “student media,” to discuss anything “inflammatory, derogatory, or disruptive to good labor-management relations,” according to the contract document.
Dianne Layden, a part time English instructor who has 40 years of experience in labor relations and studies, and previously worked as Assistant County Manager for Labor Relations, said that the language in the contracts is unethical, is a restriction on instructors’ First Amendment rights, and shows an attempt by the college to suppress any dissent among faculty.
“This is a gag order,” Layden said.
The full contracts can be found at cnm.edu/facstaff, under “collective bargaining agreements.”
In the contract for part time instructors, Article 26.6 states: “Nor shall College resources (including but not limited to the use of College student media) be used for any union business of any type, a political campaign for an individual candidate, an issue or an organization. In the event the College believes a violation of this provision has occurred it shall be brought to the attention of the Federation President and the distribution in question will be halted until the parties agree on how to proceed (Emphasis added).
In an official statement to the Chronicle, administration addressed this article: “The language in Section 26.6 of the Part-time Faculty Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon by the part-time faculty union and administration. It addresses the operations of the part-time faculty union, not an individual’s right to freedom of speech. It is intended to articulate that college and taxpayer resources are not to be used for union organizing or lobbying, or political activity.”
But the broadness of this language could be problematic, and while administration said that it would not limit an individual’s freedom to speak, any concern that an individual union member has concerning their work could be construed as “union business,” Layden said.
“An instructor can have a matter that is a personnel matter. By definition, because that instructor is covered by the collective bargaining agreement it also becomes a union matter, but it didn’t generate there,” Layden said.
Another point of concern is whether faculty now has limits on their right to speak freely to the Chronicle, whether the Chronicle is a “college resource,” and whether administration reserves the right to halt the distribution of the paper if it contains communication that violates these provisions.
A document obtained by the Chronicle showed that during the negotiating process, there was language put forward by the college that specifically named the CNM Chronicle as one of the resources union members could not use to distribute “inflammatory, derogatory or disruptive” statements.
That language was changed, and the CNM Chronicle is not named specifically in the final contracts, which now refer to “student media.”
“The CNM Employees Union and the College did have some long, spirited discussions about the school newspaper and whether it was a ‘college resource’ or an independent entity, as those questions relate to the rights of faculty and the union officers,” said Andy Russell, History instructor and Vice President of the CNM Employees Union, who was part of the bargaining process for the full timers’ contracts.
In their official statement, the school denies that the language is meant to refer to the distribution of the student paper.
“The sentence that includes the word ‘halted’ would not apply to the operations of the CNM Chronicle. It is intended to refer to fliers with disputed content that would be posted on bulletin boards at CNM locations,” according to the statement.
However, the broadness of the language in the provision is worrisome to many, and shows that the school has a definite attitude toward the paper, Layden said.
“Maybe CNM was conveying a message to the bargaining team that they don’t like it when faculty members talk to the Chronicle reporters,” Layden said.
Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, pointed out that regardless of whether a school contributes money to a student-run newspaper; they do not have the right to control the content and distribution of the paper.
“I’ve never heard anything like that, that singled out any particular method of communication, any particular media organization or type of media. It is worrisome both for the rights of journalists and the rights of the faculty. That’s really remarkable,” LoMonte said.
Although the Chronicle was not named specifically in the final contracts, the restrictions on instructors’ speech made to “student media” is still in the contracts, and could theoretically be used to limit what the paper prints, LoMonte said.
Since the Chronicle was not part of the negotiations, the contract cannot pertain to how it operates or communicates with instructors, he said.
“If anyone ever tried to restrain the distribution of a student publication on the grounds of a faculty contract, that person would be committing a four-alarm fire violation of the First Amendment. There is no more blatant violation of the First Amendment than to restrain the distribution of a publication,” LoMonte said.
LoMonte also pointed out that words like “inflammatory” and “derogatory” are not really legally recognized terms and lack clear definitions like libel or slander, and that the interpretation of these words could cause problems when enforcing the contracts.
“I think it is completely inappropriate as a matter of academic freedom for the college to make that request, to ask the union to make that concession,” LoMonte said.
The school’s official statement said the Labor Board, which consists of a union rep, a member of management, and a neutral party would interpret the agreement and make determinations and recommendations.
Russell said that the “complicated” agreement still needs to be tested on many different levels, especially concerning communication between union officers and Chronicle reporters.
“The officers of the FT faculty bargaining unit must now be more careful about issuing any statements that are ‘inflammatory, derogatory, or disruptive to good labor-management relations’ when communicating via channels CNM claims some control over (on-campus e-mail, bulletin boards, mailboxes, and now ‘student media’),” Russell said.
The school’s official statement did not mention any plans to reevaluate, clarify or change any contract language any time soon.