State System colleges' faculty puts strike on hold

Walkout would not happen before spring

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The 115,000 students attending Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities can rest easy that a potential strike by faculty will not interrupt classes or final exams -- at least this fall.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said Tuesday the union has decided to put off consideration of a possible strike until the spring semester. He made the remark in an open letter to students.

The decision comes two weeks before the scheduled start of final exams at the 14 schools, including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania. The State System of Higher Education and roughly 5,000 faculty represented by APSCUF are locked in a two-year labor dispute that is the longest in the system's three-decade history.

"Faculty know you are worried that your professors will go on strike. We know you are concerned about the impact a strike would have on your classes, your finals, and your tuition dollars," Mr. Hicks wrote. "After thoughtful deliberation and consideration about how a strike at this time would affect our students, we have decided to postpone consideration of a strike for the rest of this semester."

The next bargaining session is set for Dec. 11. Earlier this month, membership voted to authorize union negotiators to call a strike on short notice depending on the tenor of the negotiations.

Kenn Marshall, a State System spokesman, said it is good there will be no disruption of classes or finals this semester. "We hope that in the interim we can reach a settlement," he said.

"We continue to believe that we can reach a settlement with APSCUF at the bargaining table," Mr. Marshall added. "We look forward to continuing those discussions."

In recent weeks, the State System removed from the bargaining table a controversial 35 percent pay cut for temporary faculty. Part-time temporary faculty members would see their salary frozen at current levels.

Other key unresolved issues include a management proposal to phase out incentive payments offered since 1999 to faculty for distance education course development and savings sought in employee health care.

Salary has been less contentious, in part because the increases are expected to track with contract agreements covering other state employee unions.

Under the system's latest four-year proposal, retroactive to 2011-12, pay would be frozen the first year, the State System has said.

After that, faculty at the top of the pay scale -- ranging from $107,870 for full professors to $66,222 for instructors -- would see their base salary rise the remaining three years by 4 percent, plus yearly cash payments equivalent to 2.5 percent of their salary. Base salaries would rise by a total of 4 percent plus annual service increments of 2.5 percent or 5 percent annually for members at all other scales, including the bottom scale that ranges from $44,795 for instructors to $72,967 for full professors, State System officials said.

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