Faculty strike at 14 Pennsylvania public universities

UPDATE: 5:25 am, 10/19

It’s official, the union representing 14 public universities and colleges across Pennsylvania has called a strike.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties released the following statement on its website:

APSCUF members are heading to the picket lines after negotiators waited through the night for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education to return to the bargaining table.

“At 11:35 p.m., we made a last attempt to negotiate through back channels,” Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash said. “We waited until 5 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phones will be on, should the State System decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students. They’ll know where to find me at 5:30 a.m. I’ll be outside the chancellor’s office at the Dixon Center on the picket line.”

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.

The faculty contract expired June 30, 2015, and negotiations have been ongoing since late 2014.

APSCUF represents about 5,500 faculty and coaches at the State System universities: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania.

UPDATE: 9:55 pm, 10/18

It appears more likely than ever that college and university faculty across Pennsylvania will strike starting Wednesday morning.

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced on its website that it had ended negotiations with the faculty union as of late Tuesday evening. The union confirmed that account in a tweet, but said it would not officially call a strike until the pre-determined deadline of 5 am Wednesday morning.

Below is the full statement from PASSHE:

The State System and the faculty union concluded five days of negotiations Tuesday without reaching agreement on a new contract. While the two sides made significant progress in the talks that began Oct. 14, including reaching tentative agreements on more than a dozen issues, including distance education, recruitment and retention of high-quality faculty, and professional responsibilities of faculty outside the classroom, they were not able to reach overall agreement. The union rejected the System’s offer to provide raises to all permanent and temporary faculty and the identical healthcare package that other System employees have. The union previously indicated it would strike on Oct. 19 if an agreement not reached by then. The System remains committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to everyone, especially students.

Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, wrote the following in a Facebook post:

“The governor urged us to keep on negotiating. He was very clear about that. He personally spoke to both sides and urged us to settle this. I find it shocking that Chancellor Frank Brogan would spit in the governor’s eye like that. Through all of this, the governor has been a strong advocate for the students.”

In earlier rounds of negotiations, the union and state system had haggled over the role, workload, and pay of adjunct professors. PASSHE now says it has withdrawn many of the changes it had proposed regarding adjuncts and that the lingering disagreement revolves around salaries and benefits.

By early Wednesday morning, thousands of Pennsylvania college professors may be on strike and tens of thousands of students may be without someone to lead class.

That’s the dark scenario facing 14 public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth as representatives from Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF) try to hammer out a deal.

The schools in the crosshairs are Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, California, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Mansfield, Slippery Rock, Shippensburg, and West Chester. Together they educate 107,000 students.

APSCUF, meanwhile, counts about 5,500 members, including faculty and coaches.

The sides have been negotiating for two years without resolution. The APSCUF contract expired in 2015 and the union authorized a strike to begin at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, October 19. Starting October 15, both sides agreed to a media blackout in order to eliminate outside distractions.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen in the event of a work stoppage. Unionized teacher can, if they want, cross the picket line and continue to teach. Some schools, such as West Chester University in the Philadelphia suburbs, are urging students to attend class and only leave if their professors don’t show.

It’s possible a prolonged strike could delay student graduations, force students to attend makeup classes later in the year, or even prompt affected universities to cancel classes altogether and issue refunds. All that depends on how long the strike lasts and how many teachers participate.

PASSHE has publicized an offer it made to the union on October 12. That deal would have included raises ranging from 7.25 percent to 17.25 percent, according to PASSHE. It also would have increased the amount of money faculty contribute to their medical insurance, boosted the allowable number of adjunct professors allowed at each campus, and increase workload for temporary full-time professors from four classes a semester to five.

Union officials have called the offer unfair to temporary and adjunct faculty.

The average full-time faculty member made nearly $100,000 last year, according to PASSHE.

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