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By Brian Whitehead bwhitehead@scng.com

Dozens of instructors at San Bernardino Valley and Crafton Hills colleges rallied outside San Bernardino Community College District headquarters Thursday to demand district brass provide part-time faculty health insurance through a $200 million state reimbursement program.

The call to action came three weeks after the SBCCD Teachers Association submitted a request with the chancellor’s office to take the two parties’ ongoing labor dispute to arbitration.

Union leaders presently are waiting for the district’s offer, association President Edward Gomez said Thursday.

At the heart of the monthslong dispute between the two sides is what SBCCDTA leaders claim is the doubling of their work for the same amount of pay.

Gomez, a history professor at Valley College, has said faculty were told last school year they would teach two classes but get paid for one.

Thursday, on top of calling for fair compensation, union members demanded the district take advantage of the Part-Time Faculty Health Insurance Program, a $200 million reimbursement initiative included in the 2022 Budget Act.

Other community college districts in the area have done so, union members said, at no cost.

Mary Lawler, SBCCDTA treasurer, has worked five years as a part-time kinesiology and health instructor at Valley College. That’s about the same amount of time she has needed a hip replacement.

Yet, she receives no health insurance as a part-time employee and can’t afford paying out of pocket for surgery.

She knows others in similar situations.

“The district can apply for that reimbursement for our health benefits, so it’s not even coming out of anybody’s pocket, coming out of any expense account,” Lawler said. “It’s coming from the state. All the district has to do is apply, and they won’t. Every time our negotiating team goes to meet with their negotiating team, they’re left at the table.

Lawler added: “I’m just asking for us to get a resolution to this so part-time people can take their health benefits and get the help they need so they can have a longevity to life.”

Following the brief rally outside of district headquarters, SBCCDTA members filled the second-floor board room and made their case before district leaders. The board of trustees was not expected to take any action on the matter Thursday evening.

In an email Thursday, SBCCD spokesman Angel Rodriguez repeated the district’s official comment on the matter, first shared in July.

“The District and SBCCDTA are currently engaged in their mutually negotiated dispute resolution process, as set forth in their collective bargaining agreement,” Rodriguez wrote. “That process is described from its beginning to its conclusion in the agreement. Beyond that, because this case involves an ongoing matter related to personnel, as well as a pending hearing process, it would not be appropriate for the District to publicly comment further.”

Thursday’s rally was the first of two planned demonstrations organized by SBCCDTA officials to champion the group’s cause.

Union members plan to rally at 8:30 a.m. today at Valley College as the institution welcomes new state Chancellor Sonya Christian.

SBCCD includes Valley College in San Bernardino and Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa.