Pennsylvania college faculty takes strike vote

No contract since 2011; results expected by Friday

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The union representing faculty at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities hopes by Friday to announce results of a strike authorization vote that began on the campuses Monday and runs through Wednesday.

A vote in the affirmative by faculty would not mean an immediate work stoppage but instead would give negotiators for Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties authority to call a strike on short notice.

The 5,000 faculty members represented by APSCUF have been without a contract since June 30, 2011, the longest such labor dispute in the State System's three-decade history. Both sides last met Friday and are not scheduled to bargain again until Dec. 11.

The vote, being conducted by paper ballot, is the latest intensification of what for more than a year had been a relatively muted dispute. Both sides insist they want a settlement.

"Faculty members do not want to strike," APSCUF spokeswoman Lauren Gutshall said Monday. "They see strike as truly a last resort."

A similar tone was struck by the State System following Friday's bargaining session.

The system "is committed to achieving a new collective bargaining agreement with APSCUF that is fair to everyone, especially to our students and their families who currently provide nearly two-thirds of the revenue needed to operate the universities," officials said in a statement.

On Friday, the State System offered a new comprehensive proposal, removing what had been among the most contentious proposals -- a 35 percent pay cut for temporary faculty. Part-time temporary faculty members would see their salary freeze at current levels.

The State System also wants to phase out incentive payments offered since 1999 to faculty for distance education course development. Management says the incentives that were created when there were almost no such courses no longer are needed, given how widespread those courses are today at the 14 universities, which include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

The State System also is seeking savings in health care costs and has reopened a voluntary retirement incentive program that other unions across the State System participated in two years ago but APSCUF did not.

Last month, nearly 100 faculty members from across the 115,000-student system held a protest at the State System's board of governors meeting in Harrisburg and urged system leaders to accept the union's offer of binding arbitration. The State System rejected the proposal.

education - state

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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