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Faculty from 14 state universities officially striking

HARRISBURG – With the clock ticking down toward the faculty union’s announced 5 a.m., Wednesday, strike deadline, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Educatio...

HARRISBURG – With the clock ticking down toward the faculty union’s announced 5 a.m., Wednesday, strike deadline, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education has offered APSCUF a new proposal that would provide raises to all permanent and temporary faculty and a healthcare package identical to what other State System employees have.

Negotiators from the State System and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties have made significant progress during five days of negotiations that began Friday, including reaching tentative agreements on more than a dozen significant issues, including distance education, recruitment and retention of high-quality faculty and professional responsibilities outside of the classroom.

But so far, APSCUF has refused both the System’s salary offer and the proposed healthcare plan changes; in essence, saying they want better coverage than other System employees have, and want faculty to pay less for it.

“We don’t understand how APSCUF can argue that faculty members should be entitled to a better healthcare plan than our other employees,” said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall. “How can they argue that faculty members should be treated better than our university health center nurses, who provide care for our students when they become ill while away at college; that they should be treated better than our campus police and security officers, who protect our students from harm while they are away from home; or better than our other valuable campus employees, who provide a variety of vital student services?

“These are difficult times for our universities. If APSCUF won’t agree to share more of the costs for their own healthcare—like everyone else has—it will threaten our ability to keep tuition affordable for students. We have made significant progress since Friday, and were hopeful we could get to an agreement by now. It is unfortunate—especially for our students—that we have gotten to this point.”

In an effort to reach an agreement, the State System has withdrawn separate proposals that would have required full-time temporary faculty to teach an additional class each semester; that would have reduced compensation rates for part-time, temporary faculty; and that would have increased the maximum number of temporary faculty the universities could employ.

All told, the State System has withdrawn more than two dozen previously proposed contract changes. Also among those was a proposal to allow some graduate students to gain teaching experience in labs and clinics, with the approval of their department faculty and under the direction of a faculty mentor. System negotiators also withdrew a proposal that would have allowed university presidents to transfer qualified faculty from one department to another to meet students’ classroom needs, without the faculty in the receiving department having to approve the transfer in a vote conducted by secret ballot, as they do now. The proposal still would have required the receiving department faculty to provide a recommendation on such transfers.

“By removing many of the more contentious issues from the table, we have demonstrated our willingness to participate in the normal give-and-take of negotiations,” Marshall said. “We believed it also would show APSCUF our eagerness to achieve a new contract. It is clear from their actions, however, that healthcare and salaries are the real issues in these negotiations.

“On healthcare, our proposal seeks not only to achieve needed cost savings for the System and the universities, but also is a matter of fairness. We are attempting to treat all of our employees equitably. On salaries, we continue to offer increases that essentially mirror those provided to other unions. APSCUF has said no to both.”
As part of the new offer, the State System is proposing permanent faculty receive raises in each of the three remaining contract years. Those raises would range from 7.25 percent to 17.25 percent for individual faculty members. All regular faculty also would receive an additional cash payment of $1,000 in January 2017 as part of a new agreement.

The State System also is offering raises to temporary faculty in each of the three years, with no workload changes. Part-time temporary faculty in the State System currently receive a minimum of $5,826 per three-credit course—more than double the regional average of about $2,700.

The healthcare plan changes implemented in January 2016 for other System employees, and which the System has asked faculty to agree to, increased the employee’s share of their insurance premium by about $7 to $14 every two weeks, going from 15 percent of the premium to 18 percent. Other plan adjustments included a new deductible, co-insurance requirements for some medical services and higher prescription drug co-payments. The changes, which not only would mirror those provided to other System employees, but also would be comparable to those agreed to earlier this year by the state’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), would be phased in over the next approximately eight months.

“As all Americans know, healthcare costs continue to rise each year. Everyone’s costs are going up, while many have seen their benefits decline. APSCUF seems to ignore this reality,” Marshall said.

The State System worked with its healthcare provider for more than a year to develop plan changes that would lower the overall cost of coverage to help produce needed savings for the System while continuing to provide a level of benefits to employees that remains very competitive in the higher education market, all without having any effect on the student learning experience or reducing other important services.
APSCUF leadership first raised the possibility of a strike early on in these negotiations, which began almost two years ago. The State System has never had a strike in its more than 30-year history.

Should a strike occur, the universities will remain open and will continue to operate to the greatest extent possible. Individual faculty members would have the right to choose whether to go on strike, or to continue working. By law, faculty have the right to decline to participate in a strike and to remain in their classrooms and continue their classes for their students. Students would be expected to continue to report to class until informed otherwise by their university.

Regular updates would be posted on the State System’s website at www.passhe.edu/negotiations, and on the individual universities’ websites.

SOURCE:Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education