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University, faculty union talks progress but both sides prepare for strike

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 5:26 p.m.

Negotiators for the 14 state-owned universities and their faculties said they continue to make progress in union contract talks but are preparing for a strike just in case.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education said the universities, which include Indiana, California and Slippery Rock in Western Pennsylvania, would remain open “to the extent possible” if the Association of State College and University Faculties calls for a walkout.

Union spokeswoman Lauren Gutshall said the union, whose members have worked for 18 months without a contract, has considered strategies for the “optimal date” for a work stoppage: Jan. 28, the start of the spring semester, or Feb. 5, the date of the governor's budget address.

The union hasn't taken a vote, she said.

“We are still trying to negotiate a fair contract,” Gutshall said.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet Friday and on Jan. 16.

About 114,700 students are enrolled in the universities. The union represents more 5,000 faculty members.

State system spokesman Kenn Marshall said Indiana, California and Slippery Rock universities and the others formed strike contingency plans. He did not elaborate on what those plans involve.

Union officials said “some important progress” occurred during talks last week but significant differences remain over health care, retiree health benefits and distance education.

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

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