The union representing about 1,200 part-time teachers filed a lawsuit against Madison Area Technical College on Monday alleging that a new course assignment system will leave its members out of work.
Union leaders are asking for a temporary injunction from the Dane County Circuit Court to halt the implementation of the new system.
"This policy places hundreds of talented, committed, part-time faculty members at risk of having their course assignments stripped away," union president Mike Kent said in a statement.
The lawsuit is the latest in a more than a year-long dispute between the college and its part-time faculty, but this is the first time it has entered the realm of the courts.
"In my view, this is simply another attempt by Mike (Kent) and the (union) leadership, this time to get the courts to give them what they can't get from us at the bargaining table," said Jon Anderson, attorney for the MATC district board. "The part-time faculty really aren't driving the boat at MATC. The work is assigned to them after MATC has loaded up the full-time faculty."
Under the new policy, full-time faculty can take overtime — up to 40 percent of a regular load — before some part-time faculty get assigned courses. The college and the full-time union agreed to the new language in April.
The attorney for part-time faculty, Lester Pines, alleges in the lawsuit that because the system was changed without the consent of the part-time faculty, it amounts to an unfair labor practice.
But college officials say that the new system ensures that more courses will be taught by full-time teachers, which they say is better for students.
The college's goal is for full-time faculty to teach 75 percent of the courses. But that ratio has gotten distorted recently, as college administrators scramble to provide enough course sections for a double-digit growth of students. Part-time faculty currently teach more than 25 percent of courses, said Joe Lowndes, president of the full-time union.
"It's our long-standing position that full-time faculty are the best for the institution," Lowndes said.
Part-time faculty are still operating under a 2007 contract. The union negotiated a tentative pay raise with the college in April, but delayed a ratification vote because of concerns over the course assignment system.
Kent argues that the rules will allow full-time faculty to rack up overtime before "probationary" part-time teachers, those with fewer than six semesters of experience, get a crack at teaching assignments. He said this will cost the college money because full-time faculty are more expensive than part-time faculty.
But college officials say they don't believe that the new system will be more costly. Under the new contract, full-time faculty get paid regular wages — not time-and-a-half — for voluntary overtime.