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Tensions rise between state university system, union faculty

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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

Tensions between the State System of Higher Education and the union that represents faculty at the 14 state-owned universities ratcheted up on Thursday as union members marched on a meeting of the system's board of governors in Harrisburg and said they would spend the weekend preparing to strike.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of State College and University Faculties, said faculty members, who have worked without a contract since June 30, 2011, planned to adjourn to a two-day workshop in which they would discuss strike preparations.

Classes are scheduled to resume on Monday for 115,000 students at the 14 schools, including Indiana, Slippery Rock and California universities in Western Pennsylvania.

Although the association has yet to take a strike vote, union leaders previously discussed the possibility of staging a walkout on Jan. 28 or Feb. 5.

State system spokesman Kenn Marshall said students should plan to return to school over the weekend and be in class on Monday. Each university, he said, made preparations to stay open in case of a strike.

While the two sides reached an agreement on salary issues, they remain at odds over health care benefits for faculty and retirees. State system officials proposed offering new employees the option of selecting a defined contribution plan for health care retirement benefits and seek to enroll faculty members in a lower-cost plan in place for other state workers.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or

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