APSCUF members went on strike Wednesday morning after not reaching a tentative agreement in contract negotiations with PASSHE.
Faculty members went on strike at all 14 universities, picketing at entrances to campus from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ben Shaevitz, president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF and physics professor, and Colleen Cooke, vice president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF and recreational therapy professor, said that student and community support had been fabulous.
“I’m incredibly overwhelmed,” Cooke said.
Although an email from the university said that PASSHE was committed to reaching a contract, the state system’s negotiating team had left the negotiation table while APSCUF’s negotiating team had stayed on Tuesday night, as shown through APSCUF President Kenneth Mash’s Facebook Live stream.
“There has been a pattern of the system either spreading misinformation or incomplete information,” Shaevitz said, referring to the discrepancies between press releases between the two groups. “It’s designed to be vague, incomplete, untrue and anxiety-producing. I believe our information has been more forthright, [APSCUF’s releases] are designed to present our position and our proposals.”
Shaevitz said that Norton said to a group of students that APSCUF hadn’t shared their strike plan, even though both he and Cooke had presented the plan to university officials days ago.
“We sat in a room with their administration,” Cooke said. “We shared the plan with them.”
Cooke said the discrepancies in communication from the university is hurtful and counterproductive to relationships.
“We’re going to have to come back to work after this, we’re going to have to work together,” Cooke said.
Shaevitz said that regardless of what the state media has released, he is committed to continuing work with the administration when the strike is over.
“It’s not going to be easy but I’m going to be responsible and professional and try my best to re-normalize our relationship because it’s not good for the institution,” Shaevitz said.
Shaevitz said he saw the last offer from the state system and that it was regressive.
Shaevitz said that it was regressive in that the state system brought back retrenchment, which would furlough professors, which was something that had initially be taken off the table when negotiations first started.
Shaevitz said that this backtracking on issues will be added to the previous labor claim the group filed.
Cooke said that despite the support, she was still disappointed to be there.
“I had hoped for better from the state, I thought we were making progress,” Cooke said.
Robb King, associate executive director for university communication and public affairs, said that besides the smaller faculty presence on campus, the university has been business as usual, with all services such as dining halls and the health center remaining open.
“Aside from there not being class, it’s a pretty normal day,” King said.
King said the university is very hopeful that the two sides will come to an agreement in the future and that the work stoppage will be short. King said there is a strike page on the university website that links to the PASSHE FAQ and answers questions.
King said many are asking for particulars but not a lot of answers are currently available, with a lot of them depending on the length of the strike. King said that students should check their mySRU portal to see if their classes have been temporarily suspended.
“Hopefully both sides realize the gravity of the situation and will get this resolved sooner rather than later,” King said.
Cheryl Norton, SRU president, said that no one wants to be on strike and that the system thought the proposal would be accepted.
She said she received the petition from Tuesday’s rally and that it was heartfelt and meaningful.
Norton said the issues affecting temporary faculty were taken off the table.
“Originally APSCUF said it wasn’t about money, but it seems to come down to money,” Norton said.
Norton said the bottom line is that the final offer is still there and that it is, as PASSHE says, the best that can be done.
“The proposal is still there, but we’ve not received a counter-proposal from APSCUF,” Norton said.
Norton said that although the university advocates for more funding from the state, at a recent meeting with legislators she was told that the commonwealth has no money.
Norton encouraged students to work on projects, read their textbooks and do other activities on campus such as events for Homecoming or community service.
APSCUF will be striking from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until a tentative contract has been reached. On Saturday, members will be picketing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will be picketing in the stadium but won’t block the Homecoming game. As of this writing, PASSHE has not returned to the negotiating table.