Faculty union representatives from Pennsylvania’s fourteen university State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), are meeting in State College PA this weekend. At the top of their agenda will be whether they will authorize a strike or other job action in the face of stalled negotiations and public attacks from Republican legislators.
Faculty at PASSHE universities have been working without a contract since June 30, 2015 and they are growing increasingly impatient with Chancellor Frank Brogan and his negotiations team. The two sides have not met since the beginning of January, despite the fact that the union, APSCUF, has offered at least 20 potential meeting dates. According to the union, the next session is not scheduled until the end of this month.
Speaking to Raging Chicken Press earlier today, APSCUF president Ken Mash made it clear that faculty are less than pleased with the way the State is treating negotiations and their profession. “People are very angry at the legislators who took a very aggressive posture toward faculty and coaches at the budget hearings,” he said. “They are very upset about the State System’s lack of response – a lack of a defense – and comments that we consider to be hostile toward the union.”
Attendees of Friday’s assembly were treated to a 34-minute video featuring “highlights” of the PASSHE budget hearings earlier this month. Anyone who was not angry when they arrived in State College, got up to speed pretty quickly.
On Saturday, APSCUF representatives will debate if they should move forward with a job action before the end of the spring 2016 semester. According to Mash, APSCUF’s negotiations committee voted to move a strike authorization vote to the floor of the assembly for consideration. That motion will be taken up during Saturday’s assembly session. “The delegates would have to approve it and then it would have to go to a vote of the membership,” Mash explained. “We think we can get that done within two weeks, which means we could still have a job action before the end of the semester.”
The last round of contract negotiations between APSCUF and PASSHE dragged on for nearly two years as the State System sought to turn large numbers of faculty into poorly paid, part-time adjuncts as well as demanding significant give-backs. Faculty and students mobilized like never before, holding large protests in Harrisburg and on each campus, and were on the verge of striking before they reached a settlement. That fight is still fresh in most faculty’s minds as they consider authorizing a strike.
“People don’t want to feel like they are being exploited and disrespected,” Mash explained. When it comes right down to it, Mash was pretty clear about what it takes to defend public higher education and ensure a fair contract.
Our experience dictates that it is only through collective action that you manage to get anything done. When we hear these things going on, when people are pushing their power in our faces, there’s only one way to respond and that is through collective action and the combined power of people working together. And that’s what the labor movement’s about.
I think more people are learning that across the country. You see record numbers of faculty unions forming at the adjunct level but also at the tenure-track level. I think people have come to understand that as administrations no longer buy into a model of shared governance, of respect for faculty, that the only real response is to combine your efforts and work for collective action.
Asked if he had a sense of how Saturday’s deliberations will shake out, Mash said that will depend on what members decide through their discussions on the floor. “We’re a democratic organization. People have an opportunity to express their concerns, they’ll have an opportunity to express their frustrations, and we will collectively come up with a path forward.”
At the end of the day, Mash said, “we will do the thing that we feel is in the best interest of everybody combined. People are ramped up, but they want to be responsible at the same time. That’s why you want to talk these things through.”
If you happened to follow some of the Facebook and Twitter chatter among APSCUF members today, a strike before the end of this semester is a distinct possibility. We will know more following tomorrow’s deliberations.