State uni­ver­si­ties, fac­ulty de­bate con­tract: a guide

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Me­gan Trim­ble

Fac­ulty at Penn­syl­va­nia’s 14 state uni­ver­si­ties has voted over­whelm­ingly to al­low their union to call a strike, if nec­es­sary, fol­low­ing two years of un­suc­cess­ful con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions. But talks are con­tin­u­ing.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Penn­syl­va­nia State Col­lege and Univer­sity Fac­ul­ties and the Penn­syl­va­nia State Sys­tem of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion re­main at odds over salary, health in­sur­ance costs and fac­ulty work­loads.

The union rep­re­sents about 5,500 fac­ulty and coaches at Blooms­burg, Cal­i­for­nia, Cheyney, Clar­ion, East Strouds­burg, Ed­in­boro, In­di­ana, Kutz­town, Lock Haven, Mans­field, Millersville, Ship­pens­burg, Slip­pery Rock and West Chester uni­ver­si­ties. Mem­bers have been work­ing un­der con­tracts that ex­pired June 30, 2015.

The univer­sity sys­tem says a strike would halt classes for more than 100,000 stu­dents but the schools would re­main open. The union says its goal is still to reach a con­tract.

A look at some of the is­sues:

The back­drop: de­clin­ing en­roll­ment, and a deficit

En­roll­ment peaked at about 120,000 stu­dents but has dropped more than 14,000 since 2010. Both sides at­tribute the de­clin­ing en­roll­ment, in part, to lower Penn­syl­va­nia high school en­roll­ment.

Stu­dent tu­ition and fees pay for the ma­jor­ity of univer­sity op­er­at­ing costs. The univer­sity sys­tem says state fund­ing is at the same level as in 1999 and it doesn’t want to raise tu­ition. The re­sult, says sys­tem spokesman Kenn Mar­shall, is an ex­pected short­fall of $10 mil­lion this fis­cal year in a to­tal op­er­at­ing bud­get of about $1.2 bil­lion even be­fore any con­trac­tual spend­ing in­creases.

Mar­shall says these chal­lenges are mak­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions more dif­fi­cult than ever.

Says fac­ulty union pres­i­dent Ken Mash: “We are try­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can be do­ing to be at­trac­tive to stu­dents, but it’s hard to do that when fac­ing a bud­get cri­sis and not com­pen­sat­ing fac­ulty ap­pro­pri­ately to of­fer a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.”

Salary, health care is­sues

The univer­sity sys­tem says it of­fered fac­ulty a one-time $600 cash pay­ment this year and a 1 per­cent raise in Jan­uary 2018 and Jan­uary 2019 in ex­change for health in­sur­ance changes and an in­crease in the teach­ing load for some fac­ulty. It says the of­fer also in­cluded a step in­crease in 2019 of 2.5 per­cent or 5 per­cent, de­pend­ing on se­nior­ity.

The univer­sity says other unions and non-union em­ploy­ees have al­ready ac­cepted the of­fer. Base pay for full-time fac­ulty ranges from $46,609 to $112,238, de­pend­ing on ex­pe­ri­ence.

The union says the pro­posal is un­ac­cept­able. Mash says the raises would not make up for costly health care changes or ad­dress large dis­par­i­ties in the pay scale.

The univer­sity sys­tem wants em­ploy­ees to pay about $7 to $14 more every two-week pay pe­riod to­ward the cost of their health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, de­pend­ing on their lev­els of cov­er­age.

Work­load and non-tenured fac­ulty

The state sys­tem is ask­ing non-tenured and non­tenure-track fac­ulty who work full time to teach an ad­di­tional course each se­mes­ter in ex­change for re­duced re­search and univer­sity ser­vice re­quire­ments.

Says sys­tem spokesman Mar­shall: “That’s where we need our tem­po­rary fac­ulty the most. The class­room. And, that’s where stu­dents need it the most.”

Non-tenured and non­tenure-track fac­ulty who work part time would also no longer have a re­search or ser­vice re­quire­ment but see a pay cut.

The union says the pro­posal would only mean a higher work­load for those af­fected be­cause re­searchers would not likely drop their re­search.

A pro­posal is also on the ta­ble to al­low stu­dents go­ing for their mas­ter’s de­grees to teach — some­thing tra­di­tion­ally re­served for doc­toral stu­dents — in very lim­ited cir­cum­stances and with de­part­men­tal ap­proval. They would not teach full classes but would only as­sist fac­ulty by teach­ing in labs.

The union says the stu­dents wouldn’t pro­vide the same qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion as pro­fes­sors.

The strike vote, and prop­sects for a walk­out

The union says 82 per­cent of its mem­bers cast bal­lots on the strike-au­tho­riza­tion vote, with 93 per­cent sup­port­ing a strike. Au­tho­riza­tion, how­ever, does not mean a strike is au­to­matic and dates have been set for fu­ture con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

It has also autho­rized strikes in pre­vi­ous rounds of con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, but none has ever oc­curred.

“Our goal is to get a con­tract. This is a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion and we should never have been here,” says union pres­i­dent Mash.

At the same time, he says given how long talks have been go­ing on, the pos­si­bil­ity of a strike should not have been un­ex­pected.

Coaches voted sep­a­rately but also autho­rized a strike. They can set a strike date that aligns with a fac­ulty date, strike in­de­pen­dent of fac­ulty or not strike at all.

What would hap­pen if a strike oc­curs

Classes would stop with­out fac­ulty. But the sys­tem spokesman says the uni­ver­si­ties have “strike re­sponse plans” and would re­main open.

Says spokesman Mar­shall: “A strike could be dev­as­tat­ing to our stu­dents.”

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