The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) voted to pass the strike authorization vote, which allows the APSCUF leadership to call a strike at will.
APSCUF’s last contract with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) expired in June 2011, leaving both parties to negotiate the terms of a new contract.
President of the SRU chapter of APSCUF Dr. Patrick Burkhart has stated that little progress has been made between the two parties within the months of contract negotiations. Because of this, APSCUF recently held a strike authorization vote in order to increase pressure on PASSHE to reach an agreement.
“I’ve heard that it has been effective in that regard, and in that both sides have been coming to the table with proposals that seek compromise on the issues,” Burkhart said.
According to Burkhart, 86 percent of the entire faculty in APSCUF voted, and 91.4 percent of the faculty from SRU participated in the vote. The results were that 95 percent of the faculty voted that the strike authorization should be passed.
Burkhart reported that APSCUF has agreed that they will not go on strike during the rest of the fall semester. This will allow APSCUF and PASSHE to negotiate for at least two months without giving students any reason to worry about a strike.
“Keep in mind that the contract is between PASSHE and APSCUF,” Burkhart explained, “It’s our contract, it’s the administrations contract as well. Everything that is in there was agreed to by both sides, and I believe that both sides benefit from having a clear agreement. It reduces ambiguity, it reduces misunderstanding, and it produces predictably.”
Burkhart explained that PASSHE wants the contract to be decided upon so that they can predict their expenses. This is important because bankers are reluctant to lend money if they do not know how much money their clients will have.
If an agreement is not made within the next two months, Burkhart stated that he is planning on holding at least one town hall meeting where students and community members will be able to voice their concerns and ask questions to the SRU faculty members of APSCUF.
The two main issues that APSCUF and PASSHE are currently debating are distance education and retirement benefits.
Currently, professors receive compensation for holding online classes, but PASSHE has proposed that professors should no longer be paid extra for online courses. Burkhart stated that a lot of work is put into creating an online class that is comparable to the quality of a traditional class. Because of this, many professors are upset with the idea of not receiving compensation. Burkhart stated that another problem is that PASSHE seems to want to increase the number of online classes, and PASSHE believes that the quality of online classes does not mach that of a traditional classroom.
The other concern that Burkhart has is that without retirement benefits, public universities in Pennsylvania will have a hard time attracting quality professors.
“What I don’t want to do is throw away the future,” Burkhart said. “The future of being a college professor. The future of affordable, accessible, college education. This contract negation would go more smoothly and more quickly if I was willing to throw away the future for professors. But current students will get the degrees and credentials and will be tomorrow’s professors. When I’m asked to throw away the employment terms for the next generation. I’m being asked to concede the career opportunities that some of our current students will support themselves with in the future.”
PASSHE released details to the public about these proposals to APSCUF while the strike authorization vote was taking place.
“We remain committed to achieving an agreement with our faculty union that is fair to everyone,” stated a blog post on the PASSHE website. “Especially to our students and their families who provide almost 75 percent of the revenue necessary to operate our universities through tuition and fees. We have a fair offer on the table and hope to reach a settlement with APSCUF very soon.”
PASSHE states that a 1 percent pay increase will be offered for faculty working in the 2012 to 2013 and the 2013 to 2014 school years. The salary increase would be 2 percent in the 2014 to 2015 school year. PASSHE stated that this offer is comparable to the contracts that the other unions in Pennsylvania agreed to. It also promises a comparable salary between full-time and part time faculty, as well as a pay freeze at current salary levels for part-time and temporary faculty.
Another part of the proposal states that PASSHE would like to phase out of incentive payments to faculty that utilize distance education (or online) courses. The incentives were created in 1999 when online learning was a relatively new idea. Now that online courses are more commonplace, PASSHE states that giving incentives for online courses is no longer necessary.
The next part of the proposal was that the PASSHE managed healthcare plan would be modified to be similar to the one offered by the Pennsylvania Employee Benefits Trust Fund (PEBTF), which is a plan that covers over 80,000 other state employees, including about one-third of PASSHE’s employees.
PASSHE also stated that they would like to Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program. The press release stated that APSCUF refused to participate in the program when it was originally started, but all other groups in PASSHE took part and saved the State System approximately $10 million.
“It is essential that we achieve cost savings in other areas in order to help offset proposed salary increases that are included in the proposed new agreement,” the PASSHE press release said. “A major focus is in the area of healthcare, where we are seeking provisions that will result in savings similar to those that are included in agreements with all of our other labor unions.”
On Nov. 14, APSCUF created a blog post in response to PASSHE’s press release.
“On Friday, PASSHE put out [a] statement about negotiations,” stated the APSCUF post. “Then they sent it to everyone on campus Monday morning, which so happens to be the first day APSCUF was holding a strike authorization vote. It is clearly mere coincidence that they chose that timing to put out their first public elucidation of their negotiations offer to APSCUF.”
The APSCUF blog post explained that it is important that people get both sides of the stories, because they believe that the PASSHE press release left out a few key points.
In response to the pay increases, APSCUF stated that the pay increase is only three steps in four years. They also state that the pay increase will only be for eligible faculty, and approximately 40 percent of the faculty are eligible. APSCUF also states that the link connected to the statement about comparable salary actually says that professors who teach less than 12 hours receive a different pay scale than professors who work at least 12 hours.
About the compensation being cut to faculty teaching online classes, APSCUF stated that PASSHE is trying to make teaching online courses mandatory for professors. APSCUF believes that this is because PASSHE is trying to make a shift to mostly online classes.
“Faculty don’t decide what tuition is; the Board does,” the APSCUF blog post states. “And an objective look at our price tag – the lowest four-year tuition in the Commonwealth – tells you that our students get value for their buck. They also deserve a strong voice in Harrisburg against the constant assault of budget cuts that lead to those tuition increases. Don’t they deserve that for their thousands in tuition per year?”