Faculty union, state-owned universities reach tentative agreement

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The union representing 5,500 faculty on Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities said tonight it has reached a tentative agreement with the State System of Higher Education on a new four-year contract and will bring it to members for a ratification vote.

If the membership approves the deal, and if the board of governors for the State System approves the package 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 already has struck with other statewide unions, according to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

"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."

The union said that for the first time, class size will be part of the collective bargaining agreement "as an issue subject to curriculum committee recommendations."

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.

After a pair of marathon weekend sessions, bargaining teams for both sides reported they had agreed to a framework of a new contract but offered no additional comment, before tonight's unanimous vote in favor of the pact by APSCUF's negotiations committee, which consists of chapter presidents from each of the 14 campuses.

"We are pleased that we were able to reach a tentative agreement that is fair to both faculty and students," said APSCUF President Steve Hicks. "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."

The State System declined comment today in advance of tonight's vote.

Salary was less of a flashpoint in the negotiations, in part because union and management said they expected increases to resemble those in recently negotiated contract agreements covering other state employee unions.

Under the tentative agreement, retroactive to 2011-12, 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 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, including Califoria, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

The union's legislative assembly will be presented with the agreement later this week, but the dates of ratification votes by the system and the full union membership have not been announced.

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


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