Will APSCUF Strike?

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 at 5:00 PM
Will APSCUF Strike? by Macala Leigey

Students could be packing their bags and returning home sooner than anticipated this fall.

Just last week, the Association of Pennsylvania State College Union Faculties (APSCUF) called for a strike authorization vote, taking place from Sept. 7-9 for faculty and Sept. 15-16 for coaches.

“Last week its [APSCUF’s] leadership met and authorized a strike organization vote — they have held similar votes in the last four rounds of negotiations dating back to 1999. Their [APSCUF] membership has always given them the authority to call a strike, fortunately we’ve never had one,” media relations manager for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Kenn Marshall said.

In APSCUF’s recent news release, regarding their last negotiation meeting, the union stated, “Negotiators are no closer to a deal after today’s faculty contract negotiations between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the union representing Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities’ faculties and coaches.”

The news release also stated that APSCUF and PASSHE members discussed tenure and retrenchment articles, but “made no progress on the contract overall.”

In response to the Aug. 25 negotiation meeting, APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth Mash said, “We’ve been negotiating now for almost two years. The time has come to stop piddling around. We need to get down to business, and the system needs to get serious. It’s unfair to do this to students.”

Since June 2015, APSCUF members have been working on an expired contract, and have held multiple negotiation sessions with PASSHE to construct a new contract that each organization would consider fair.

“The system did not share its multi-year contract proposal until June 2016. Prior to June 2016, the state system only reacted to APSCUF’s proposals for a one-year contract. All other statewide public-sector unions ratified one-year contracts before their contracts expired in June 2015 [and] no other public-sector union was asked for givebacks for their one-year contracts,” said Edinboro University’s chapter spokesperson Dr. Jim Wertz.

Two of the main issues hindering the faculty union and state system from coming to an agreement are health care and temporary full time faculty.

“The state system’s one-year counterproposal contained delayed dates of step increases and health-insurance changes that could cost APSCUF members thousands of dollars more in health care costs,” said Wertz.

Marshall, on the state system side, also commented on the health care situation, stating, “I think everybody understands that health care costs have been increasing dramatically in recent years. We are looking at ways the system can control those costs. About three-fourths of our operating costs are paid for by tuition and fees. Anything we can do to impact those costs, [and] help slow the growth is going to benefit students.”

He continued, “We have asked the faculty union to agree to changes that are identical to those that other unions already have accepted. We’re asking APSCUF to accept the very same changes, [and] so far they have refused.”
PASSHE also asked the faculty union to consider changes regarding the responsibilities of temporary faculty members.
“The other major issue is the work load of temporary faculty; we are looking to reorganize that somewhat, not to add to it, but change the way they work,” said Marshall.

Currently, full time temporary faculty members teach four classes, but there are proposals on the table to change that.

“What we’re [PASSHE] asking is that full time temporary faculty teach one more course each semester, but in exchange for that they would no longer have research or university service responsibilities,” said Marshall.

Wertz described the proposed temporary faculty workload changes as essentially a “20 percent decrease in salary.” He would continue, stating that a full time wage for temporary faculty teaching four classes would now be the same full time wage for five classes.

Voting to authorize a strike for faculty APSCUF members began yesterday and will continue until Friday.

If the faculty vote to strike, along with a 10-member majority of the negotiation committee, Mash (APSCUF President) will announce a strike date. If no agreement is met by the assigned strike date, then faculty members would go on strike.

“During a strike, the faculty members — including counselors, library faculty, athletic trainers — will not work, and they do not receive pay or benefits,” said Wertz.

He continued, “Faculty will not meet in-person or with online classes and no academic advising will take place. Faculty members will not conduct research with students and they will not advise student clubs, [and] they will not write letters of recommendation or evaluate graduation credentials.”

Marshall remains hopeful that a strike will not occur.

“We’re [PASSHE] committed to staying at the table and negotiating as long as it takes. A strike certainly would be devastating to students, [and] we’re hopeful we won’t have one this time,” he said.

However, Marshall also shared that PASSHE is aware of how the current financial state of the universities and state system has affected this round of negotiating.

“We have to take into consideration the fact that the state system and our universities are facing the most difficult financial challenges they have ever faced. We are receiving the same amount of money funding from the state as we did in 1999; that’s not even factoring in inflation.”
Marshall continued, “The union perspective, they’re trying to get a contract that best serves their members, [and] from a system perspective we’re looking at an agreement that best serves our students. That has to be our focus. Collective bargaining is hard. It’s maybe even harder this time, because of the financial situation facing our universities.”

Over the last 10 years, the 14 universities in PASSHE’s state system combined have made roughly $300 million in budget cuts, and have entered virtually every year with multi-million dollar deficits.

 “We’re trying as hard as we can to reach an agreement with our faculty,” said Marshall.

“If the union chooses to call a strike that’s entirely up to them. Right now we want students to focus on classes.”

Marshall continued, “If the faculty union decides to call a strike, we will work as hard as we can to ensure that the universities stay open.”

“Faculty don’t want to strike, but they are prepared to do so to preserve the quality of education at Edinboro University and throughout the state system,” said Wertz.

Edinboro University’s Director of Communications Jeffrey Hileman addressed the potential strike situation, by saying, “Our hope, and our expectation, is that we will do everything to ensure that students’ education will continue.”

Hileman continued, “Currently, it’s not directly affecting activity on our campus. Our semester is off to a really great start. We’re really hopeful, on behalf of our students, that these state level negotiations are successful, and that we can continue on the great path we are on uninterrupted.”

APSCUF and PASSHE’s next negotiation meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8.

Macala Leigey is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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