The longest faculty labor dispute in the history of Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities inched closer a showdown today with an announcement that union professors have voted overwhelmingly to give their negotiators authority on short notice to call a strike.
Affirmative votes were cast by 95 percent of those taking part in the election, which included more than 86 percent of the roughly 5,000 faculty belonging to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, union leaders said.
A total of 4,511 ballots were cast, of which 4,265 voted yes and 246 voted no.
The vote stemmed from three days of balloting at schools belonging to the State System of Higher Education, among them California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.
The faculty's past contract expired June 30 2011.
For more than a year, the labor dispute progressed in relatively muted fashion, but last month, faculty protesters showed up at a State System Board of Governors meeting in Harrisburg, urging management to submit to binding arbitration.
The system rejected the proposal, saying it managed to reach contracts with other unions through collective bargaining.
State System Chancellor John Cavanaugh also told the union it would be imprudent to involve a third party in deciding the contract who is not duty-bound to consider interests of Pennsylvania taxpayers.
There are 115,000 students across the system.
Friday's vote, though it does not mean an immediate work stoppage, does give the union's negotiating committee the ability to call a walkout on short notice depending on the tenor of the negotiations.
"The overwhelming support for our negotiations committee and our negotiations team sends a strong message to the State System," Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF, said in a statement issued late this afternoon. "Our members are united for a fair contract that benefits all faculty and students by maintaining quality education."
The State System said following the vote that it continues to be interested in reaching a resolution.???We remain committed to reaching a fair settlement and we will continue to work toward that on behalf of our students,??? system spokesman Kenn Marshall said.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.