Nobody wins with a labor strike. Just ask the folks at Hostess Brands Inc., which teeters on the brink of liquidation after its bakers union went on strike rather than accept an offer that cut wages and benefits.
That should be a cautionary tale for faculty members and administrators at Pennsylvania's 14-state-owned universities. Members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties have been working without a contract with the State System of Higher Education since June 2011, and last week they voted overwhelmingly to authorize their negotiators to call a strike if they see fit.
Union President Steve Hicks said a walkout by 5,000 educators would be a last resort. Both Mr. Hicks and a university system spokesman professed a shared goal of reaching a settlement that's fair to faculty and the system's 115,000 students. Let's hope they mean it. Negotiating labor contracts should not be a game of chicken.
Unlike many contract talks, the key issue does not appear to be wages. The system backed away from a proposal to cut pay for temporary faculty by 35 percent. Under the system's most recent four-year offer, salaries would be frozen retroactively for the 2011-12 school year. Going forward, base salaries would go up by a total of 4 percent for the next three years plus other payments based on seniority.
Two points of disagreement between the two sides are health care coverage and a management proposal to phase out incentive payments that have been offered since 1999 for the development of distance education courses.
The system recently saw its credit rating lowered because of declining enrollments, growing construction debt and reduced state financial support. The latter two conditions aren't likely to change any time soon, so all parties must recognize the need to make do with less while meeting the needs of a diverse student body on its campuses.
There has never been a faculty strike in the system's 30-year history. This is no time to break that streak.