On Wednesday, Oct. 19, professors at all 14 state universities in Pennsylvania hit the picket line. Picket lines formed at all of the universities’ campuses and at the Pennsylvania State System for Higher Education’s (PASSHE) headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa., after the strike began.
A five-day negotiation session, meant to be a final shot at producing a fair contract, ended on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at around 8:45 p.m. when state representatives left the bargaining table. With no contract and no new negotiations set, members of the faculty union went on strike at 5 a.m. the following morning.
This marked the first time the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) went on strike in the system’s more than 30-year history.
The union, comprised of both faculty and coaches, had been without a contract for over a year. With several main issues, including benefits for current faculty and retirees, on the bargaining table, faculty went on strike to bring out a new contract that both sides could call fair.
There were also several issues relating to adjunct faculty salary and overall quality of education. Faculty on West Chester University’s campus were out Wednesday morning with signs stating “Strike” and “Honk for quality education” on every street corner.
The issue regarding quality of education was said to be a main and largely disputed point. Other matters of dispute included efforts to increase the number of adjunct professors and to allow graduate students who had earned 18 credits to teach courses.
Teachers were upset as well because of the amount of work they had to put in to teach the courses they do, including the attainment of a doctorate degree, that issue being one of many that couldn’t be agreed upon during negotiations.
The state made several announcements relating to the strike, stating that there were a number of issues that had been agreed upon, but there were a few on which an agreement could not be reached.
During the strike, something noticed by staff was the overall support from students across all 14 universities. Some students chose to hit the picket line with their professors.
The strike lasted three days, ending on Friday, Oct. 21 when the union came to a tentative contract agreement.
“We made some concessions in salary and health benefits, but otherwise, we got all we were asking for,” said SU’s Dr. Kim Garris.
PASSHE’s website states that once final terms are agreed upon, the new contract will go to the full APSCUF membership for a ratification vote.
If ratified, the tentative agreement would then be brought to the State System’s Board of Governors for final approval.
“The contract requires the approval of an assembly of the union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, before its 5,500 members can vote on it,” said Kenneth M. Mash, president of APSCUF.
The ratification process is expected to take about six weeks, according to Mash.
APSCUF said Friday in a news release that it accepted concessions in salary and benefits in exchange for the removal of nearly 249 changes that the State System proposed.
“We fought back virtually every one of them,” Mash said. “And the amount of love and respect throughout this from our students, you can’t pay for that with money.”
The agreement includes raises and measures to save on healthcare costs. Under the agreement, the union would not get raises as high as those of other unions representing state workers that recently settled contracts.
“For the sake of students, APSCUF agreed to a salary package that was significantly lower than that of the other unions,” said union representative Kathryn Morton.
Both APSCUF and PASSHE made it clear that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf being so involved in the process was key in getting the two sides back to the table and working out a new contract agreement.
One of the union’s bids was to narrow the compensation gap between adjunct and full-time faculty.
The university system has withdrawn earlier proposals to increase professor workloads and to increase its reliance on temporary faculty.
It had agreed to accept reduced coverage and higher out-of-pocket costs, but that was “not enough to satisfy the State System,” according to Mash.
Professors were offered the same package as other employee groups, said Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the State System.
“Not only is this a matter of cost savings, but we think it’s a matter of fairness,” said Marshall.
The previous contract expired on June 30, 2015. The new one will be retroactive and expire on June 30, 2018.
The striking union in Pennsylvania represents more than 5,000 professors and coaches across the state with a combined enrollment of more than 100,000 students at these 14 institutions: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Man- sfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania.
Sean Smith is a first-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at SS866152@wcupa.edu.