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State reaches deal with college profs

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Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 1:04 a.m.
 

A potential strike by faculty members at California University of Pennsylvania and 13 other state-owned universities has likely been averted, according to the local union chapter president.

Dr. Michael Slavin, Cal U chapter president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said the union agreed to the framework of a revised contract proposal around 1:30 a.m. Sunday from the State System of Higher Education.

The deal follows nearly two whole days of negotiations between representatives from both sides and will likely be approved within the month by union officials and members.

“This is going to happen,” Slavin said. “I've made about eight phone calls to our negotiation team the past two days. Everything was very, very slow. But they were trying to get everything in the language right, so I'm glad they were slow.”

The union's key issue – a provision to separate new hires out of the existing benefit plan and create what Slavin called “a two-tier system designed to break the union” – was removed from the contract. The state system had maintained that concessions were necessary for the state to keep providing affordable education. Slavin added the union was prepared to set a strike date by next week.

“As soon as they pulled that provision off the table, we were able to have a good talk,” Slavin said. “We just wanted them to treat us the same way as every other (state) union has been treated. They were very slow, but they were pleasant with each other.”

The universities currently enroll about 115,000 students.

The schools, in addition to Cal U, are: Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.

Kenn Marshall, media relations manager for the state system, said the contract would be retroactive and run through June 30, 2015. The union has been working without a contract since June of 2011.

“My understanding is it remains a four-year deal … all our other agreements run through that date,” Marshall said. “We have the framework for the agreement and right now, I can't talk about any specifics other than it was a result of a marathon session. We have a tentative agreement, and from there, we'll hopefully move forward.”

Slavin said he thinks the union's assembly last week at the State System of Higher Education headquarters in Harrisburg – when hundreds of educators protested outside the system's board of governor's meeting – helped its leverage at the negotiation table.

“We were all saying ‘Enough is enough' and I think they got the message,” Slavin said. “We had a big show of force basically saying we are serious and we're not taking a hit of separating the union. This is a good contract, not just for Pennsylvania, but for public education, which has been attacked all across the United States.”

Slavin said the union must first approve the contract through a three-step process.

The first comes Monday with a conference call among the 14 university chapter presidents. Once they read over the contract language, there will be a vote to recommend or reject the proposal. Such action requires at least 10 votes, which Slavin said he anticipates.

On Friday, the union will conduct its annual assembly in Gettysburg, which involves delegates from each school's faculty. If a simple majority recommends the proposal, the proposed contract will then be presented to each school's entire faculty for approval.

“For almost 18 months now, we've been without a contract, so it will be nice to actually say to people, ‘Yes, we have a good contract,' instead of ‘We don't know what will happen next week,'” Slavin said. “There will be nothing hanging over our heads and we can get down to business of educating our students. I know it sounds like a line, but that's what we do.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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