Pennsylvania’s state universities OK four more labor contracts; no deal with teachers yet

 Students sit outside at West Chester University (Sara Hoover/WHYY)

Students sit outside at West Chester University (Sara Hoover/WHYY)

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education’s board of governors has approved new contracts with four of its labor unions.

The deal covers approximately 4,500 employees who work at the system’s 14 schools, which include West Chester and Shippensburg.

Nurses, social workers, clerical and maintenance workers are some of the staff who will see a salary increase, starting in January.

While there is no general pay increase, represented staff will see a step increase of 2.25 or 2.5 percent.

“We are very pleased to have new contracts in place with the majority of our unions,” said board chair Guido Pichini in a statement. “All sides recognized the significant challenges that continue to face the State System, and we worked together to reach agreements that benefit everyone, especially our students.”

Each of the collective bargaining agreements had been ratified by union membership earlier in the year.

Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the system, says three of the unions agreed to freezing the employee and employer contribution rates to the state health care plan, the Pennsylvania Employee Benefit Trust Fund.

“By essentially reducing the amount we were expecting to have to pay in health care, that more or less offsets the increase in salaries that the employees are receiving,” he said. “On top of that, employees don’t have to pay more for health care than they did last year. The employees are benefiting, and so are we.”

The freeze in contribution rates essentially pays for the increase in salaries, Marshall said.

While the system’s union contracts are usually three to four years long, these one-year contract extensions run through June 2016.

That’s because the commonwealth primarily negotiates with two of the unions, and Marshall said stat officials wanted shorter contracts.

“Since this is a new governor, first year in office, rather than start right out and negotiate long-term agreements, he essentially asked them if they would be willing to a one-year extension,” Marshall said.

The “coalition bargaining” allows the state system to have input but it’s the state’s responsibility to negotiate with certain unions, including those representing the maintenance and clerical staff — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — and social workers and drug and alcohol counselors — Pennsylvania Social Services Union.

The board also approved a contract earlier this year with the union for the 225 campus police and security officers.

Negotiations are continuing with the union representing the 6,000 faculty members and athletic coaches.

Marshall, who said faculty are working under the expired agreement, said that’s is very typical.

“The last time we were negotiating with our faculty union, we did not reach an agreement until 18 months after the expiration date of the prior contract.”

It routinely takes longer to come to an agreement with the faculty union, which is the system’s largest individual labor union, Marshall said.

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