Pennsylvania faculty union talks with state advance
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After bargaining that lasted most of Friday, both sides reported progress but no deal in efforts to resolve the longest faculty labor dispute in the history of the State System of Higher Education.
Management and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) agreed to meet two more times -- Jan. 16 and 17 -- if needed, in addition to talks already planned for Friday.
Lauren Gutshall, an APSCUF spokeswoman, said progress in particular was made in the area of part-time temporary faculty pay. Her understanding is management has removed from the table a proposal to freeze their pay.
She also reported progress on the issue of pay for distance learning but said health care remains a key outstanding issue.
"I think we are, essentially after today, a bit more optimistic that we can reach agreement with the State System," she said. "As we have been saying all along, faculty members do not want to go on strike. We just want a fair contract."
Kenn Marshall, a State System spokesman, could not provide specifics but said that on several issues "we did make some progress. At least that's a good sign."
Spring semester is due to begin later this month across the system's 14 state-owned universities, including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock in Western Pennsylvania. Both sides have said they want to avoid any disruption of classes.
The roughly 5,000 faculty represented by APSCUF are the last remaining set of State System workers not to have reached agreement on a new contract. Their last pact expired on June 30, 2011.
In October, faculty protestors came to a State System board of governors meeting urging management to submit to binding arbitration. The State System rejected the idea, saying it had managed to reach agreements with its other unions through collective bargaining and that it would be imprudent to turn over faculty talks to someone not duty-bound to consider interests of Pennsylvania taxpayers.
In November, professors voted to give their negotiators authority to call a strike on short notice. The union later said it would delay any potential job action at least until the spring semester.
In a statement issued in advance of Friday's talks, Gary Dent, vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations, said the system seeks a contract that will both keep it competitive in attracting and retaining faculty and "find solutions to our ever-increasing costs in certain areas, which, if not addressed, will threaten the financial viability of our System."
Among the points of contention has been a State System proposal to phase out incentive payments offered since 1999 to faculty for distance education course development, a well as savings in health care.
Salary has been less of a flashpoint, in part because both sides have said they expect increases to resemble those in recently negotiated contract agreements covering other state employee unions.
The system's latest four-year proposal, 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.
First Published January 5, 2013 12:00 am