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Faculty, coaches at state-owned universities vote to authorize strike

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:22 a.m.

Faculty members and coaches at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities overwhelmingly voted to authorize their representatives to call a strike.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties - which includes California, Indiana, Slippery Rock and Clarion universities in Western Pennsylvania - said a vote count on Friday revealed 95 percent of members who cast ballots voted to approve a strike if necessary.

The union, which represents more than 6,000 faculty members and coaches, has been working without a contract since June 30, 2011.

Union President Steve Hicks said the vote should send a strong message to officials at the State System.

"We will continue to do everything we can to reach an agreement. A strike is truly a last resort," he said.

State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said officials are committed to negotiating an agreement that will save money. He said the State System has exacted savings with all six of the labor unions with which it struck agreements in the past 16 months.

"We remain committed to achieving an agreement that is fair to everyone involved, especially to our students," Marshall said.

Hicks said the negotiations committee is planning to meet within the next 10 days to discuss the implications of the strike authorization vote and a potential strike date.

Union and State System negotiators are not scheduled to meet again until Dec. 2.

Michael Slavin, a professor in the theater department at California, who heads the union there, said it's unlikely any action would occur before that time.

He said his members are adamant that proposals to change health care benefits of retirees and reduce compensation for part-time faculty are not acceptable.

"Our faculty is ready to walk if we have to walk. We don't want to walk, but a two-tiered system is not acceptable," Slavin said.

Dave Wolfe, 21, of Pittsburgh is a senior at Slippery Rock University and head of the student government association.

He said students are growing increasingly concerned about the tenor of the labor dispute. A strike would affect about 118,000 students statewide.

"The concern is if there is a strike, what happens then? But since it's never happened in 40 years, and they've authorized strikes in nearly every contract, it's more of a concern now than a fear," he said.

Patrick Burkhart, a geology professor who heads the union at Slippery Rock, said the union vote marks "the third or fourth time" the union has gone to the brink of a work stoppage.

"Hopefully, they will realize faculty want to teach," he said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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