Still no deal for state university system, faculty
A California University of Pennsylvania union official warned Thursday that faculty at the state's 14 public universities could prepare to strike come February.
Dr. Michael Slavin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties chapter at Cal U, said there is a “95 percent chance” the union will announce a strike date if certain issues are not resolved Feb. 1, the date of the next bargaining session between the union and the State System of High Education.
Slavin said that without a significant change in the state's position, the faculty members will strike.
Spring classes begin Jan. 28 at the universities, which serve about 115,000 students.
Slavin said a bargaining session Wednesday with the State System in Harrisburg yielded no progress. He took part in a conference call with the union's negotiating team.
Slavin said the sticking point is a state proposal that would separate faculty benefits, including health care, between veteran and newer employees.
He called it “an attempt to break the union.”
“What they want to implement is a two-tier system where they say, ‘You older people keep what you have,' but the younger people coming in the door would not get the same,” said Slavin, a Cal U professor of theater.
“What's going to happen is, the guy coming in is not going to have the same benefits and health care coverage that I'm going to have.
“The very point of having a union is everyone gets the same health care. Everybody gets the same benefits. You cannot have a two-tier system. It undermines the union.”
Union members have been working without a contract since June 2011. Unions at each university authorized their leadership in November to call a strike.
System officials have said they're committed to a fair contract but must rein in spiraling costs.
This is the fifth contract negotiation in which Slavin has participated. There has never been a strike, and just once – in 2007 – has the union announced a strike date.
Slavin said that in that year, the contract agreement came at 2 a.m. the day faculty was preparing to walk off the job.
He anticipates a repeat next month.
“I'm just reading cards. I'm not the final voice here. But if (the state) continues to negotiate the way they have been, there's a 95 percent chance we'll walk. … And it's got to change fast. We're at the end of our rope,” Slavin said. “It's basically drawing a line in the sand.”
A supermajority – 10 of the 14 chapter presidents – would have to approve a strike for a work-stoppage to occur.
In a news release, Gary Dent, the system's vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations, said: “No one would be served by such action, particularly our 115,000 students and their families.”
Complicating matters is the fact Chancellor Dr. John Cavanaugh, the state system's boss, is leaving his position in February to move to Washington, D.C., Slavin said.
The union is urging members to express their frustration at the system's board of governors meeting Jan. 24. Slavin said thousands of union members will bus out to demonstrate.
In the meantime, Slavin suggested the state thinks the union is bluffing.
“This is the worst possible thing we can do, but what choice do we have? They've pushed us to a point,” Slavin said.
“It's a public relations tool, and really, a union's only weapon. We have to get people to understand we've been pushed to that brink, and I don't think the state system thinks we will do that.
“We're ready. I think we're going to be packing up and walking out the door sometime soon.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.