Leadership from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) have met several times since May to discuss a new faculty contract, which expired June 30.
The first interest-based bargaining (IBB) session was held May 13 at the APSCUF office in Harrisburg. According to PASSHE, the IBB strategy focuses on collaboration rather than traditional exchange of contract proposals. State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the system redesign has led them to “take a fresh look” at how they approach contract negotiations.
“The new chancellor is more astute about collaboration instead of division,” Dr. Ben Shaevitz, the local APSCUF chapter’s president, said.
Both Greenstein and APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth Mash have emphasized the focus on student success during these negotiations. In the May 14 press release, Mash said they “will continue to keep students in mind” while working on the new contract.
“Tensions between the sides would not be helpful for anybody, including the students,” Shaevitz said. “It’s not a good way to live your life, knowing that there are disagreements that could impact somebody’s graduation because there could possibly be a strike a year from now. Anything could happen.”
Shaevitz said that he doesn’t know any specific details about the contract negotiations because the information that’s been shared publicly is very sparse, but he added that this isn’t cause for concern because “the limited information that’s being shared is not negative.”
“I’ve been chapter president for a while now, and I’ve been a union member for my whole career,” Shaevitz said, “so I have a lot of trust in the union’s leadership.”
One side-letter that was ratified in May is the Voluntary Phased Retirement program. According to the PASSHE website, the aim of the program is to help faculty members who want to gradually transition into full retirement, which will allow the faculty member and the university to effectively plan ahead.
“If this program continues in the future, I’m personally likely to do this because it’s a good opportunity for me as a faculty member,” Shaevitz said. “It’s also good for my department because they can plan for a smooth transition.”
In a press release published on May 15, Mash praised the Board of Governors of PASSHE upon the ratification of the retirement program, saying, “This agreement will afford our students more time with these talented experts, allow departments more time to succession plan, and give professors more time to acclimate to the next phase of their career.”
Shaevitz hopes an agreement is reached sooner rather than later, and he hopes that it’s economically fair – more specifically, he’s hoping that benefits won’t be “eroded” and for a reasonable raise. What either side defines as “fair” though could be very different, Shaevitz added.
“We generally hope to get what [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] got, in terms of percentage increases,” Shaevitz said. “But because the two unions are so different, we realize that there might need to be compromise downwards.”
According to the PASSHE website, the most recent contract will remain in effect until a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified. Both negotiation teams will convene again Sept. 14-18 to discuss the new faculty contract during a four-day marathon IBB session.