Faculty union members at the 14 Pennsylvania state-owned universities (PASSHE) have had just about enough. Following three consecutive days of marathon negotiating sessions on Tuesday and more sessions scheduled for Wednesday and beyond, faculty members were showing signs of optimism that a deal might not be that far off. However, after PASSHE continued to put proposals on the table that APSCUF President Ken Mash called “incendiary” in a press release following today’s failed negotiations, faculty are now closer than ever to calling the first strike in the state system’s 33 year history.
Speaking to the Harrisburg-based PennLive Wednesday evening, Mash said that PASSHE negotiators did an about-face, virtually wiping out the limited progress that the teams had made earlier in the week:
“They pretty much took out all the progress we had made and added stuff to make it worse,” he said. “They might as well have just reached across the table and stuck the fingers in our eyes. It would have saved them the trouble of writing things down.”
The collapse of today’s talks comes one day after APSCUF proposed “binding arbitration” as a way out of the impasse. Binding arbitration would turn to a three person panel – one person chosen by APSCUF, one by PASSHE, and a third agreed upon by both parties – charged with developing a fair contract for both parties. Under a binding arbitration agreement, both parties would agree to abide by contract written by the panel.
APSCUF has given PASSHE until Friday, September 23 to respond to their request. In a press release issued on Tuesday, Ken Mash said that the offer of binding arbitration would guarantee a settlement, remove the possibility of a strike, and allow the fall semester to continue without disruption. “We believe our students want this over as soon as possible,” he said. “We hope the State System will agree to the binding arbitration process that will allow everyone to focus on our students.”
But the clock is ticking. During Wednesday’s negotiating session, APSCUF officially notified the State System negotiators and the mediator that if contract negotiations continue to stall and an agreement is not reached in short order, faculty members will go on strike no later than October 30th.
This weekend, faculty representatives from all 14 PASSHE universities will convene in Harrisburg for the union’s scheduled Legislative Assembly. This fall’s assembly will be immediately followed by a two day strike workshop. During the workshop, faculty members will be making final preparations for a strike.
Given that faculty members have now been without a contract for 450 days without a contract and that PASSHE just blew up negotiations days before this weekend’s assembly and workshop, has left many members of APSCUF’s negotiating team feeling like PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan wants to provoke a strike. “Our negotiations team is convinced that the State System leadership wants a strike,” Mash said. “What else could possibly explain the fact that they would continue to put on the table proposals that my members will find incendiary? They just do not seem to care if they diminish our universities and if our students suffer.”
Some of the major points of conflict center around PASSHE’s proposals, which would
- Substantially increase the use of temporary faculty in lieu of permanent faculty
- Make use of students with few graduate credits to teach courses
- Stop funding faculty research and professional development
- Force on-campus students into distance education sections
- Give university presidents unilateral authority to transfer faculty members to other departments
- Cut the lowest-paid faculty members’ salaries by 20 percent
But, given the way thing have gone this week – and the previous 450 days – it appears likely that one of the agenda items for this weekend’s Legislative Assembly will be to set a strike date.
“We will continue to go to the table as often as possible to avoid a strike,” Mash said in Wednesday’s press release. “But it is hard to imagine that we will emerge from this weekend without a strike date — unless the State System agrees to binding arbitration.”
Raging Chicken Press will be covering this story on location in Harrisburg this weekend.