PHILADELPHIA -- Pennsylvania higher education officials took a contentious pay cut off the table in contract talks with state university faculty on Friday, but the union said it intends to press ahead with a strike authorization vote next week.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said the two sides remain at odds on issues including compensation for temporary instructors, health care benefits and online education.
"While there was movement in the new proposal, it was still overwhelmingly concessionary," the union said in a statement.
During talks in Harrisburg on Friday, negotiators for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education withdrew a proposal for a 35 percent salary cut for temporary, or adjunct, faculty. Instead, they proposed no change in full-time adjunct salaries while freezing the pay of part-time temporary faculty for the life of the contract.
Another negotiating session is set for Dec. 11.
"We're committed to staying at the table as long as it takes to get a settlement -- hopefully very soon," system spokesman Kenn Marshall said.
Union members have been working without a contract since June 2011. They are scheduled to hold strike authorization votes at each of the 14 state-owned universities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
If passed, the vote empowers union chapter presidents at every school to call a strike; 10 of the 14 must approve a walkout. There has never been a faculty strike.
The state had initially sought to cut starting salaries for adjunct faculty from about $44,000 to $29,000 per year, which they said was comparable to pay at peer institutions. The union called the proposal "public assistance level wages."
The state is still seeking to raise health care deductibles and co-payments in order to lower overall premiums for employees and the system as a whole. The change could save $7.5 million per year, according to Marshall.
The union counters that it could cost some members hundreds of dollars extra per year in user fees.
Also in dispute are incentives for distance education. Since 1999, instructors have been receiving extra pay for voluntarily developing and teaching online courses.
State officials argue such classes are so integrated into university life now that they don't merit additional compensation. The union says the change includes language that could unfairly force instructors to teach online, based on a decision by their department head.
A union committee will meet Nov. 16 in Harrisburg to count ballots from the strike authorization votes. The union represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches.
The state declined the union's offer of binding arbitration last month.
About 120,000 students attend the state universities in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Classes for the fall semester are set to end Dec. 7, with finals beginning on Dec. 10.