Contract negotiations between the 14 state-owned universities and colleges and one of their largest unions are hitting some rough patches, and union leaders say they think a faculty strike is a real possibility in the fall.
State education employees that belong to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, or APSCUF have been working under an expired contract for more than a year.
Negotiations on a new deal are underway.
But state System of Higher Education spokesman Kenn Marshall said union leaders need to be more willing to compromise.
“We’re trying to achieve a contract that is fair to our faculty, but also we have to recognize the very, very difficult fiscal situation that our universities are in—probably the most challenging fiscal times we’ve ever faced,” Marshall said.
Those challenges largely stem from low enrollment rates, and state funding levels that are currently at the same as level they were in 1999—and that’s without adjustment for inflation.
APSCUF President Kenneth Mash said it’s the system’s responsibility to make sure its contracts are competitive.
”If they’re doing their job properly, they should be trying to secure the funds that are necessary,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to maintain high quality if you’re trying to constantly balance your books off the backs of the students or faculty.”
On August 25, APSCUF leaders will decide whether or not to let rank-and-file members vote for a strike.
If it’s a “yes” vote, they can call a walkout at any time.
Such votes have happened before, but never resulted in a walkout. But Mash said the union’s concerns should be taken seriously.
“The difference this time is that we’ve been quite open with them, with our members, and with our students as well that we see the circumstance as serious,” he said.
“If we move down this path and our members take their vote, then we are going to set a strike date.”