“No More Games”: APSCUF Faculty Move Closer to Strike

It appears that faculty members working at Pennsylvania’s fourteen university State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) have had just about enough. Negotiations between the faculty union, APSCUF, and PASSHE administrators have gone nowhere since their contract expired on June 30, 2015. After a meeting on January 8th, PASSHE rejected all of APSCUF’s proposed meeting dates during the spring semester. On April 28, the two sides finally met for the first time since January. And, it’s fair to say, that the meeting didn’t go well.

Following last week’s negotiating session, APSCUF issued a press release saying that the day’s negotiations ended in “frustration and anger.” APSCUF President, Ken Mash, said that after almost four months of refusing to sit down and negotiate, PASSHE came to the table last week “with a one-year proposal that was worse than the one they had given us earlier.” That was a non-starter. “Of course we rejected it immediately,” Mash said. “They took an insulting proposal that we had already rejected, and they made it worse.” APSCUF negotiators countered with a compromise, dropping additional money for faculty research from their previous proposal. But PASSHE was having none of it. “We sought compromise, but System negotiators virtually sneered at our proposal before rejecting it.”

There was already bad-blood ahead of the negotiating session as faculty members were enraged at PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan as he seemed to team up with right-wing legislators during the PASSHE Senate Budget Hearings at the beginning of April to attack faculty and the State System. At APSCUF’s Legislative Assembly meeting at the end of April, faculty representatives came close to authorizing a strike. “We were angered by the lack of progress being made at the negotiations table and upset with the attacks by legislators and state system officials during the legislature’s appropriate hearings last month,” explained APSCUF Vice President Jamie Martin. “Our faculty were ready to strike, but we pulled back for the sake of our students. Today (last week’s negotiations session) the State System ignored our good will and decided to fan the flames.”

Well, apparently, faculty members have had just about enough.

In a letter sent to faculty members by APSCUF’s president on Wednesday, Ken Mash recounted PASSHE’s bad faith at the negotiations table, the attacks faculty have received by Republican lawmakers, and Chancellor Brogan’s apparent willingness to play along with some of the most extreme attacks on faculty and the PASSHE system by state legislators. According to Mash’s letter, if the next two negotiations sessions set for June 10 and June 24 yield more of the same, it may be time for faculty to strike for the first time in its history.

The next negotiations dates are June 10 and June 24. Those will be key dates, and both sides have agreed to exchange comprehensive proposals. If the System does not take us seriously, we must make sure they do. Enough is enough.

There will be no more games. In the past, when there was a vote to authorize a strike, members were told that a yes vote does not mean there necessarily will be strike. That is no longer the case. If there is a positive strike-authorization vote, and System representatives do not negotiate fairly, there will be a job action. There must be.

The letter argues that across the county, faculty strikes have become increasingly necessary to defend public higher education, to secure faculty rights, and to negotiate fair contracts.

Over the past few days, the adjunct faculty at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign concluded a strike when they reached a tentative agreement with management. This week, the CUNY faculty are in the process of taking a strike-authorization vote. With a strike looming, the California Faculty Association recently reached an agreement on a favorable contract.

New faculty unions have emerged nearly every week over the past year. Whether it be forming a union or taking a job action, faculty members are standing up for their right to be treated fairly because they are tired of subsidizing their states, their universities, and their systems with cuts to benefits and wage increases that does not keep pace with inflation.

In addition to the issues of benefit cuts and lagging wages, faculty have grown increasingly frustrated with PASSHE administrators who have been on the attack against public higher education cloaked in the harmless sounding language of “transformation” and “flexibility.” During the last round of contract negotiations, faculty worked for nearly two years without a contract and came the closest they’ve ever been to calling a strike. During that round of negotiations, PASSHE sought to fundamentally transform public higher education in the state by turning the vast number of faculty into part-time, poorly-paid adjuncts and gut the shared governance process. Why do this? “Flexibility.” Ahhhh…”flexibility.” (Your can read all of PASSHE’s 2011 “negotiation objectives” right here). These extreme negotiation objectives were accompanied a brutal “retrenchment” process that gutted faculty members and academic programs as several PASSHE universities.

In the end, faculty won that fight to a large degree and settled on a contract after 19 months of negotiating.

This time around, PASSHE administrators do not seem to be going for their goal of “transformation” in one moonshot. But, according to Mash’s letter, they are essentially after the same things, including:

  • Reducing the number of sabbaticals
  • Increasing the limit on the percentage of adjunct faculty (thus eliminating the need for tenure-track faculty)
  • Increasing the full-time load for adjunct faculty to 15 credits (thus enabling them to reduce salary and benefits and decrease the need for tenured faculty)
  • Giving university presidents unilateral authority to transfer faculty into different departments
  • Giving university presidents unilateral authority to assign faculty to teach at a branch campus or the Dixon Center (in Harrisburg)
  • Giving university presidents unilateral authority to mandate faculty to teach distance education

What seems different this time around is that PASSHE administrators and PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan do not feel the need to seriously negotiate with faculty. As some readers will recall, this was Frank Brogan’s modus operandi when he served as the President of Florida Atlantic University and when he headed the Florida public higher education system. No one should be surprised.

What may still come as a surprise to Brogan, the PASSHE Board of Governors, and university presidents is that this time around faculty are sick and tired of getting the shaft, being disrespected, and watching their working conditions deteriorate. Unless something significant changes, PASSHE might indeed get it’s “transformation;” but, not the transformation they were looking for. Instead of gutting public higher education in Pennsylvania, they may have transformed faculty members into a more militant, organized force.

We will continue to follow this story.

2 Comments on “No More Games”: APSCUF Faculty Move Closer to Strike

  1. I think it’s time for APSCUF to make good on its threat to strike. The union has caved in on previous occasions, and I imagine that they’re expected to do so again. This time, there should be no backing down.
    I’m also wondering when Brogan’s term is up? Isn’t he in by appointment?
    Haven’t we elected a Democrat? Why is he still the chancellor?
    I am not a faculty member in the PA state system, but my late husband was for thirty five years, and I remain an associate member of APSURF

    • Susan,

      From the discussion I have had with people in APSCUF leadership, I do not believe the union is making idle threats this time around. APSCUF learned a lot during the last round of protracted negotiations and I believe there would have been a strike had PASSHE not thrown in the towel on their radical demands. I think APSCUF members learned a lot as well…that is, the protracted negotiations and slow preparations allowed time for faculty to understand what was at stake.

      I am with you when it comes to the Chancellor. From my understanding, Wolf was waiting to get his first budget done before he moved to making changes in appointments. Whether that would have meant that Brogan was on the chopping block, is an open question. But given his recent performance during the PASSHE appropriation hearings, there should be significant pressure on Wolf to consider a replacement. After all, APSCUF was THE FIRST union to come out and endorse Wolf and has been a strong supporter during his first year of office. However, we see what the GOP is trying to do with public higher ed, so time for a change.

      Kevin

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