As faculty union frustration grows, so does strike possibility
By AMBER SOUTH
As contract negotiations with the state system of higher education extend into the 17th month, the faculty union’s patience is waning.
Frustration is growing within the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty over the slow pace, and so is the possibility that a strike could stall classes at Shippensburg University and 13 other schools that make up the state system.
“It almost goes with out saying that the longer that negotiations don’t result in a contract, the potential for a strike will be increasing,” said Brendan Finucane, president of the SU chapter of APSCUF.
Negotiation teams from the union and state system will meet Friday for the second time this year. If a contract is not agreed upon, the teams will meet again Wednesday, and then Thursday if necessary, Finucane said.
There was some movement when the teams met Jan. 4, after a break that followed APSCUF President Steve Hicks’ assurance to students that the faculty union would not strike in the fall semester.
The state system took off the negotiation table a salary freeze for temporary faculty, a growing population throughout the state.
“I think that was one of the more blatant measures that (PASSHE) had proposed in their version of a new contract. They finally admitted that it should be removed from their proposal,” Finucane said.
Two of the biggest issues still remain, however: health care benefits for active and retired employees and distance education pay.
According to a PASSHE news release, the state system wants to redesign the health care package to be more like what is offered to more than 80,000 state employees, including the governor and his cabinet.
APSCUF, however, states on its website that such a proposal would greatly increase faculty members’ out-of-pocket costs.
As for distance education, the state system wants to end incentive payments faculty members receive for developing those courses. According to a news release, this is because distance education courses are far more common now than when the incentive was first offered in 1999.
As negotiations continue, some state universities have started posting on their websites “frequently asked questions” regarding how students would be affected by a strike.
SU has not posted these questions, said communications director Pete Gigliotti, because the university has only received a “handful” of questions about the strike from students.
Finucane said that to prepare in the case that a strike does happen, each university has a mobilization committee that plans what to do should a strike occur.
“I know that they are ramping up their efforts to be prepared,” he said.
State system faculty voted in November to allow union delegates to call for a strike should they see fit. Finucane has said that a strike is the last resort and will only be called if an “insurmountable obstacle” arise.
Amber South can be reached at email@example.com and 262-4771.