PASSHE university students brace themselves for possible strike
As Capital Watch goes to press, APSCUF has set the strike date of Oct. 19 if no agreement is reached between the union and PASSHE.
Negotiations were ongoing, but without any tangible result to indicate a faculty strike can be avoided at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s 14 state-owned universities.
In fact, a PASSHE statement indicates negotiations won’t resume until sometime in October as per the position expressed by the union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF). And days to find a resolution are limited since APSCUF also informed PASSHE they would go on strike on Oct. 19 unless a new contract is reached. The union is expected to hold a strike workshop this weekend.
The positions of the two sides do not appear to have changed much since before APSCUF faculty and coaches voted overwhelming to authorize a strike.
PASSHE is offering contract terms similar to the ones the Commonwealth negotiated with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) earlier this year – salary increases (of a combined $159 million during the contract), but also increased health care cost-sharing by union members, along with other cost-saving measures ($70 million total, with $22 million of that from the health care changes).
APSCUF seeks more, and on Sept. 20 requested the contract dispute go to binding arbitration. But that’s something to which PASSHE says it cannot agree, stating, “… the Board of Governors cannot cede its responsibility over the final decision on a new collective bargaining agreement to a third-party …”
Prior to APSCUF’s binding arbitration request, PASSHE proposed having a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board arbitrator conduct a fact-finding process and develop non-binding recommendations in the hopes of producing a contract resolution.
APSCUF isn’t thrilled with the fact-finding option, since (1) it’s non-binding, (2) it could take up to 40 days to complete, and (3) during the process the union would be prevented from striking.
The fact finding process utilizes a neutral third party to review the proposals of both parties—and the related documentation supporting those proposals—in order to form recommendations that could lead to a settlement. Though the fact finder’s recommendations would not be binding on either side, they would provide an unbiased perspective on the State System’s and APSCUF’s proposals.
“While the Board of Governors cannot cede its responsibility over the final decision on a new collective bargaining agreement to a third-party, we believe the fact finding process could provide a neutral viewpoint that could help achieve a final agreement,” said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall.
If the parties were to reach and ratify an agreement before the conclusion of the fact finder’s work, the fact finding process would end. “We would hope to reach an agreement long before the fact finder’s report is done,” said Marshall.
While fact finding is taking place, a process that takes up to 40 days, a strike could not occur. APSCUF conducted a strike authorization vote on the 14 State System universities two weeks ago, with the membership granting its leadership the authority to call a strike at any time.
Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with more than 100,000 degree-seeking students and thousands more who are enrolled in certificate and other career-development programs. Collectively, the 14 universities that comprise the State System offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas. Nearly 520,000 State System university alumni live in Pennsylvania.
The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. The universities also operate branch campuses in Oil City (Clarion), Freeport and Punxsutawney (IUP), and Clearfield (Lock Haven), and offer classes and programs at several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg and in Center City in Philadelphia.