With fall classes approaching, Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities and roughly 6,000 unionized faculty remain locked in what an official says is now the longest unresolved teaching contract dispute in the State System of Higher Education's history.
To date, there has been no call for a strike, nor any sign that the Aug. 27 start of the semester is in jeopardy for the nearly 120,000 students expected on campuses that include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.
Nevertheless, both sides have been without a contract since June 30, 2011, and growing impatience was evident after a union announcement that it was suspending scheduled contract talks this week with management "to allow the parties time to thoughtfully review their positions."
In a statement posted on its website, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties blamed what it said was the State System's unwillingness to offer APSCUF members the same economic package Gov. Tom Corbett offered to other statewide unions unless faculty "were willing to accept 'substantial' reductions to health care benefits and the elimination of compensation for developing, presenting and updating distance education courses."
Lauren Gutshall, an APSCUF spokeswoman, said both the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union received four-year pacts in which pay does not increase the first year, but rises by a total of 4 percent over the remaining three years.
Kenn Marshall, a State System spokesman, countered that those other unions "agreed to changes in health care plans. They agreed to changes in work rules."
He said both sides have been negotiating for two years and that State System representatives "were prepared to continue those negotiations this week. We still are.
"Because of the extraordinary fiscal challenges we are facing, we need to make changes in the way we operate and in our cost structure. We all must share in this effort," he said.
The current talks have occurred against a backdrop of deep state funding cuts to the universities and a sour economy.
Previously, the longest time the two sides had gone without a contract was seven months -- when a pact that expired June 30, 2003 was not replaced until Feb. 6, 2004, Mr. Marshall said.
Before that agreement, faculty in that dispute already had voted to authorize their leadership to call a strike if negotiations broke down. Before the 2004 deal was struck, with help from a liaison to then Gov. Ed Rendell, the union relocated its offices at each of the schools away from campus, saying it wanted to be able to ensure access to them should a strike occur.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.