The union representing 5,500 faculty at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities said Monday night it has reached a tentative agreement with the State System of Higher Education on a new four-year labor pact.
If the members vote to ratify the contract, and if the board of governors for the State System approves the pact in a separate vote, it would end the longest faculty labor dispute in the system's three-decade history.
The pact, retroactive to July 1, 2011, mirrors deals the Corbett administration has struck with other statewide unions, according to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. It freezes salary the first year, then provides increases in base salary of 1, 1 and 2 percent over the remaining three years, plus other payments based on seniority.
"In addition to a compensation package that is similar to the statewide pattern, the tentative agreement contains changes to the health care plan, including increased co-pays for office visits, emergency room visits, and prescription medications," a statement from the union read. "The specific details of the agreement will be released after the ratification process is complete."
Union officials said that for the first time, class size will be part of the collective bargaining agreement "as an issue subject to curriculum committee recommendations."
Under the deal, university presidents would have to state in writing why a recommended maximum enrollment in a particular course should be exceeded, the union said. Keeping classes within the established maximums promotes individualized attention for students, be it in a writing class or some other discipline, said Michael Slavin, president of the APSCUF chapter at California University of Pennsylvania.
"Math classes at 50 can now be at 25 where they should be," he said.
Fees for distance course development would be eliminated, the union said, though the contract would provide for technical support and instructional design professionals to work with faculty. Faculty will continue to receive $25 per student for distance courses, Mr. Slavin said.
Retiree health benefits would not change.
After a pair of marathon weekend sessions, both sides reported they had agreed to a framework of a new contract.
"We are pleased that we were able to reach a tentative agreement that is fair to both faculty and students," APSCUF president Steve Hicks said in the union statement. "It has been a long, often difficult, process, but in the end we were able to reach a settlement that maintains quality public higher education."
Gary Dent, State System vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations, said, "The new framework allows our presidents, their campus teams and faculty members to focus on innovation that will improve the educational experience of our students and help them succeed."
Salary was less of a flash point in the talks, in part because both sides said they expected increases to resemble those in other state employee contracts.
Under the tentative agreement, retroactive to 2011-12, faculty would see pay frozen the first year. Subsequently, 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 a total of 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.
Approximately 115,000 students are enrolled in system campuses statewide.
The union's legislative assembly is expected to vote on the pact Friday, and, if approved, a full ratification vote will be scheduled.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.