By Oliver Trojak
The faculty union of the Pennsylvania state university system announced the first labor strike in system history after negotiations broke down late Tuesday night.
No tentative agreement was reached between Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) by the deadline the union had previously set in September.
“Until the State System negotiates a contract APSCUF believes is fair to students and to faculty, faculty members will be on strike, starting 5 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19. The strike will end when negotiators reach a contract,” said APSCUF President Kenneth M. Mash in a union press release announcing the strike.
The impasse brought the attention of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who requested both sides stay at the bargaining table and that professors continue to work.
“We must ensure our professors are treated fairly while recognizing PASSHE’s difficult financial situation due to years of underfunding. There is enough common ground for the two sides to reach a final compromise. Both PASSHE and APSCUF should continue negotiations until a final agreement is reached,” read Wolf’s statement.
PASSHE stated on their website that students are “to report to scheduled classes unless the university indicates otherwise.”
“All campus offices and campus resources (including residence halls, student center, bookstore, dining, fitness centers, and Health Center) remain open,” said President Welsh in an email to the ESU community.
“I urge you to continue to go to your classes, knowing that some faculty will choose to stay in the classroom and others may return after the initial day(s) of the strike action. As all offices, Kemp Library and the Tutoring Center will remain open, I encourage you to continue to study and do any required homework assignments so you will be prepared to return to class when the strike action ends,” she continued.
The strike announcement was preceded by several days of negotiations beginning last Friday.
“Nearly two dozen proposed contract changes” were withdrawn “as a way to focus the discussion,” said a PASSHE statement as this latest round of negotiations began.
Originally, this round of meetings was slated to end last Sunday. However, with no agreement in hand, both sides remained at the table Monday and Tuesday.
By Tuesday night, previously contentious proposals regarding adjunct workload and increasing the cap on the number of temporary faculty university could hire were withdrawn by the State System said PASSHE Spokesmen Kenn Marshall.
“The two sides have agreed to the State System’s proposal to update language related to distance education,” he continued.
Compensation and health care changes remain outstanding issues.
Pay increases for all members along with “healthcare package identical to that provided to other State System employees included in the plan (university health center nurses; campus police and security officers; and all non-represented employees, including chancellor, university presidents, administrators and IT staff)” was offered stated a PASSHE bargaining sessions update.
“We offered a wage package substantially smaller than other state employees, by a factor of $31 million for a bargaining unit of more than 5,000,” said Mash in an APSCUF tweet.
An increase in copays and “for the first time health care deductibles” was put on the table by APSCUF Mash said during a Tuesday night web stream on the status of negotiations.
At the time of this printing, it is unclear how many professors have gone on strike. However, a September APSCUF press release stated 93 percent of faculty voted in favor of a strike authorization.
As of Wednesday morning, no new meetings are scheduled between the two sides.
The State System and APSCUF provide student center pages with information regarding the contract talks.
Email Oliver at: