APSCUF will meet with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Friday to discuss the union’s contract, which has been under negotiation for over two years.
The previous contract expired June 30, 2011, but the new contract’s terms have been debated since 2010. Until a new contract is agreed upon, the old contract remains in effect.
PASSHE Media Relations Manager Kenn Marshall explained that PASSHE is responsible for agreeing on eight contracts for seven unions. All of the unions have signed new contracts except for APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties).
Marshall explained that the contracts usually are not finalized until after the old one expires, but this is the longest time that negotiations have ever lasted.
“We meet regularly, and we’ve met dozens of times within the last two years,” Marshall explained. “Unfortunately APSCUF did cancel the last three meetings this month. We were disappointed about that because we need to be at the table.”
English professor and APSCUF member, Dr. Neil Cosgrove has been actively involved in raising awareness of the contract negotiations. He explained that the main problem right now is that PASSHE is not being fair about benefits and salary increases.
“We want to encourage them to negotiate, which they’ve hardly done,” Cosgrove said. “For two years we’ve come ready with proposals and often times they’ve been unprepared at the negotiating sessions. They just didn’t know what they wanted to offer back, or how they wanted to respond to our offers. They’ve just kind of sat on it.”
Geology professor and president of the APSCUF chapter of SRU, Dr. Patrick Burkhart explained that APSCUF is vital to being a professor because of the Collective Barging Agreement.
The Collective Barging Agreement allows all professors to negotiate their contracts together in order to get comparable salaries to one another. Without the Collective Barging Agreement, professors’ salaries can be determined simply by how much their employer likes them, explained Burkhart.
Burkhart recalled something that Provost Bill Williams once told him, “The only thing that’s worse than a union, is no union where you’re left to bargain by yourself and you don’t know what other people are making, and when you’re given a salary, you’re told ‘Shhh don’t talk about it. Don’t tell anybody about it.’”
One of the main issues for APSCUF is that PASSHE wants to make it so that professors have to teach a minimum of five sections to be considered full-time staff instead of four. Cosgrove believes that this decreases the quality of the classes by taking time away from individual instruction.
“We would like to see smaller classes as well, but we have to keep everything into consideration,” Marshall said. “We’re not like the federal government, we can’t deficit spend.”
PASSHE is trying to reduce the number of fulltime professors so that they don’t need to pay for benefits and compensation, explained Burkhart. Compensation is important because it attracts talented faculty.
Burkhart stated that if he worked part-time instead of fulltime, that he would have to have a second job somewhere else. If that were to happen, he would have to leave right after class and would not be able to help students with office hours or extracurricular activities.
“The negotiations are technically between the board and APSCUF,” Marshall said. “We’re required to balance our budgets, when we negotiate we have to keep in mind the revenue that’s available. That’s through our state appropriation, so obviously we hear a lot from legislatures and we hear a lot from state government.”
Burkhart explained that after Corbett proposed his 20 percent budget cuts to education, APSCUF started a campaign to raise awareness about how the cuts would negatively affect the public school system. The campaign included on campus rallies, writing letters to news papers, as well as a phone campaign to state senators and representatives in order to prevent the budget cut.
The campaign worked, and the cuts were canceled. Burkhart hopes that by raising public awareness, the community will contact the PASSHE Chancellor Dr. John Cavanaugh in order to convince him to settle the contact.
“We’re an independent state agency,” Marshall said. “We have to balance our budgets, and we have to negotiate a budget that we can afford, that our students can afford. Most of the money that runs our universities now comes from student tuitions and fees.”
Marshall explained that PASSHE has been working hard on a business standpoint by being as efficient as possible with money. They have managed to save about $230 million for the state through the use of join purchasing, and setting up energy conservation projects throughout PA campuses.
Marshall admits that the projects have been large up-front investments, but that they have produced a significant return in the long run.
“You’ll hear the system make arguments along the lines of, ‘We’ve got to control costs,’ but when you look at the budget and if you try to see a cause and effect relationship between faculty and costs of instruction, and increases in tuition, you don’t see it. It’s not there. If anything our share of the budgets have been dropping.”
Cosgrove explained that tuition increased 7.5 percent after an 18 percent budget cut to education in 2011. In 2012 the budget did not change at all, but there was still a 3 percent increase in tuition. APSCUF was under the same contract in both instances.
Marshall said that the main problems with the budget are the increasing cost of health care, as well as inflation.
With classes starting this week, PASSHE will be able to count how many students are attending, and will be able to calculate the amount of revenue that is coming from tuition. Marshall believes that having these numbers will be beneficial to figuring out how much money can be spent.
“We would like to be at the bargaining table right now,” Marshall said. We need to be at the table, we need to get this settled, and we want to get this settled. But again, there is no deadline, and there is no timetable. We just have to work until we get it done.”
Marshall said it is important that the contract negotiations get settled soon for students as well as for the faculty.
“As students, when you go back to school and you know that there is no contract and that negotiations are still going on, I’m sure that in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘What does that mean? Is there a possibility that there could be a strike? Could classes be halted?’” Marshall said. “We don’t want students to have to worry about that.”
Burkhart stated that APSCUF has never gone on strike before.
“I’m strongly hopeful that we will make progress negotiating before the stress level rises to the pitch of a work stoppage,” said Burkhart. “I don’t want it, nobody wants it. We want to negotiations to pick up so we can stop long before we get to such a grave event.”