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Part-Time Instructors Protest Low Wages Poverty-Level Pay, Lack Of Job Security Among Complaints At Education Day Rally

Community college instructor Walter Lowe parked his office at the foot of the steps of the state Capitol.

The office is Lowe’s maroon ‘79 Saab.

That is where the part-time Green River Community College professor eats lunch, grades papers and, judging from the toothbrush and floss, gets ready for work.

Lowe brought his office to the Legislature on Monday afternoon as part of an Education Day rally of about 100 part-time college professors angry over what they say are poverty-level wages and no job security.

They said they are paid significantly less than full-time employees for doing about equal work, that they have little job security because of quarter-to-quarter contracts and that their student time is consumed by second part-time jobs.

Lowe said he does have campus office space, but it’s in the faculty kitchen where it’s difficult to work. To make ends meet, he also has to commute to another part-time teaching job, so it’s easier to keep paperwork in his car, he said.

The protesters urged support for two bills that would raise wages and improve benefits for part-timers. Senate Bill 6723 is on hold in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and House Bill 2984 didn’t pass out of committee.

Several legislators and Gov. Gary Locke addressed the group and spoke in support of wage increases for part-time instructors.

Locke urged the crowd to oppose the Republicans’ transportation package because, he said, it would pit roads against education.

Rep. Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and co-sponsor of HB2984, said neither a pay-equity bill nor an appropriation will pass this year but are possible next year.

Spokane teachers at the rally said they know of colleagues in similar situations as Lowe.

“That kind of office is not unreal we have that in Spokane,” said Ronald Merchant, a Spokane Falls Community College professor, looking over at the Saab. Merchant is also the president of Community Colleges of Spokane and Association for Higher Education teachers’ Spokane,” said Ronald Merchant, a full-time instructor at Spokane Falls Community College. Merchant is president of Spokane’s Association for Higher Education teachers union.

Spokane part-timers did receive raises last year ranging from 4.5 percent to 14 percent as the colleges sought to begin closing the gap between part-timers and full-timers.

But the protesters said additional progress won’t be made unless the Legislature provides more money.

“We’re hoping that if we remain vocal, it will be a serious issue next year,” said Renee Goffinet, a part-time business teacher at Spokane Falls. “We’re not going away.”

Goffinet said she takes on a work load almost equivalent to that of a full-time employee, yet takes in about one-third of the money a full-timer makes.

Terry Boyden, a part-time instructor at Spokane Community College for about 10 years, said she makes “welfare salary” and doesn’t have enough time to spend with her students.

“Students expect their teachers to be in their offices … and I have to say, ‘Sorry, I have to be at my next job,”’ she said.

Boyden, who has two master’s degrees, currently teaches three hours of English in the morning at the community college, then leaves to teach for five hours at the Washington Academy of Languages.

Lowe said community colleges save money hiring more part-time employees. “It’s cheaper for the community colleges to hire two of us instead of one full time,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo