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State universities, faculty close in on new contract

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

Negotiators for Pennsylvania's state-owned university system and the union representing about 5,500 faculty members say they have reached a “framework” for a new contract to resolve a prolonged dispute.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said the accord with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education was reached early Sunday after two full days of negotiating.

“I think both sides are satisfied with the framework that was laid out, and it's a matter of each side just going through the approval process,” said Mark Staszkiewicz, president of the union's chapter at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a professor in the university's department of educational and school psychology.

Staszkiewicz is a member of the union negotiating committee.

The union said the framework “largely mirrors” agreements with other statewide unions, and offered no details pending a Monday evening vote by its negotiations committee. The system said more information would be released as the ratification process continues.

Members have been working without a contract at the 14 state-owned universities since June 2011, and members had authorized a strike if necessary. In Western Pennsylvania, the state-owned schools include IUP, Slippery Rock and California University of Pennsylvania.

“We understood that a strike was not good for anyone, neither faculty nor students,” said Ramesh Soni, vice president of the union's chapter at IUP.

Soni, chair of the management department at IUP's Eberly College of Business and Information Technology, said the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has in the past not made good-faith efforts to negotiate, but that changed.

“The most recent negotiation session ... they hunkered down, both sides were going and negotiations worked out nicely,” Soni said.

Both sides had agreed on wage increases based on the state-employee contracts, but issues such as health care, class sizes and distance learning have been sticking points.

The union said the system was making unreasonable demands for concessions on health coverage and other issues. State System officials said concessions were necessary to ensure affordable, quality education

The universities have about 115,000 students. They are in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.

Trib Total Media staff writerTory N. Parrish and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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