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State university agreement ends June 30

| Sunday, June 22, 2003

Less than four years ago, one word began a buzz at several state universities that agitated students and stressed administrators: "strike."

Contract negotiations between the State System of Higher Education and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties hadn't gone well in 1999. By mid-fall, faculty at schools like Indiana University of Pennsylvania and California University of Pennsylvania set a strike deadline if a contract wasn't agreed on soon.

Just under the wire, the professors and instructors got one.

State officials are hoping this year's contract negotiations go more smoothly, but know they're in for a bumpy ride. The state, facing a budget crisis, slashed allocations to the SSHE by about 5 percent.

Last year, allocations went down 3 percent, and the year before, 2 percent. They haven't been this low since the 1997-98 fiscal year, says SSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall.

Both sides remarked that it is unlikely a contract will be agreed upon before June 30, when the current contract ends. Though contracts are usually negotiated every two to three years, the SSHE and APSCUF agreed in 2002 to extend the 1999 contract for one more year.

Some APSCUF members complain that the negotiation process has been lagging. The two sides have met regularly in Harrisburg once or twice a month, most recently on Friday.

It's been moving "too slowly," according to Patricia Heilman, an IUP journalism professor and part of the APSCUF team. "On the union side of it, we've been doing this for almost two years."

"At this point my speculation is that there will be continued negotiations throughout the summer," said Burrell Brown, Cal U's APSCUF president and team member. "My fingers are crossed, but progress is very, very slow."

Mary Ann Rafoth, the APSCUF IUP chapter vice president, said there are many issues still to be discussed between the two sides.

"We have not even reviewed many, many articles in the contract," Rafoth said. "There are a lot of things that aren't money-based that haven't moved along."

For example, several discussions on performance reviews and evaluations have been held; faculty wants tenure-track professors to focus more on becoming better teachers in their first years at their institutions.

Of course, the big question is salary.

"When 80 percent of your budget is salary-related, you have to look at that," Marshall said.

The SSHE team has requested that faculty take a two-year wage freeze, while the APSCUF team wants an increase.

"We've made more modest salary and benefits requests than we would have made under normal circumstances," Rafoth said, referring to the state budget situation. "We're open to that, but it's just very difficult for a union to accept a total wage freeze."

Along with the freeze, the SSHE is requesting that faculty members make co-payments on their health benefits and give up tuition waivers for spouses and dependents. The requests are partly being made to avoid "putting the burden on the backs of the students," according to SSHE Chancellor Judy Hample, or using tuition increases to make up for state allocation decreases.

Heilman noted that APSCUF has accepted the lowest pay raises out of all state bargaining units through the past two contracts. And both she and Brown are quick to point at the raise that university management was given in February.

"They gave managers a huge raise. It ought to be everybody gets a freeze or everybody gets a raise," Heilman said.

At Cal U, President Angelo Armenti Jr.'s salary rose 15.3 percent -- $23,438 -- to $176,313.

"It's like, 'It looks like you have a full-course meal, but you want to give us peanut butter and jelly,'" Brown said.

Hample said then that the raises were necessary to keep managers' pay in line with that of peers across the country to remain competitive. Rafoth says the faculty needs wage increases for the same reason.

The professors' salaries have already been slipping behind over recent years in terms of inflation, so to attract quality faculty, they need competitive wages, Rafoth said.

"That's very important to us," Rafoth said. "We feel strongly that we are the university, in many ways. The real stuff, the teaching and the learning, that's us."

One SSHE official said if the faculty accepts a freeze, the management will do the same.

"At the end of the day, if the faculty is looking at a wage freeze, it will be the chancellor's recommendation to the board that all management salaries also be frozen," said SSHE spokesman Thomas Gluck.

IUP administration has also taken measures to reduce faculty costs by eliminating 62 positions through attrition.

"We've done a lot of budget tightening and we're not teaching less students or classes," Rafoth said. "So we're doing more work."

APSCUF was hoping there would be more meetings between the two teams, which members said was part of the reason why the process is behind.

"We've indicated that we're available to meet every Thursday and Friday through the spring session," Brown said. Heilman also said her side wanted to meet more often.

Though Heilman said it was "too early to tell" if a contract would be signed by the end of the month, "it looks more and more unlikely.

"If we don't, I lost $20 to Neil (Asting)," Heilman joked, referring to her negotiating partner from IUP. "I'm an optimist."

Though Gluck did not believe a contract would be agreed upon by June 30, he shrugged it off.

"This wouldn't be the first year universities have had to do this," he said.

Rafoth said although it has been typical, "it's not a good way for things to go. We're going to be working without a contract for some time, and that's always problematic. It'll be tense on campus."

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