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Strike authorization vote set

The two sides are far apart on some of the major issues, a strike authorization vote looms and the State System of Higher Education faces a $40 million deficit – even after hiking tuition by 5 percent.

Still, SSHE director of communications Thomas Gluck has reason to be optimistic: history.

“Typically, this is the pattern we’ve followed in past negotiations,” Gluck said. “We negotiate well into the fall, the faculty takes a strike authorization vote and we ultimately negotiate a new contract.

“I understand students’ anxieties, but while there’s talk of a strike, this is the pattern we’ve followed in the past.”

Gluck noted that in 30 years of the state negotiating with the public faculty union, there has never been a strike.

The faculty union also authorized a strike in 1999 before a three-year pact was ultimately reached. A one-year extension of that contract was agreed upon last year.

Dr, Burrell Brown, president of the California University of Pennsylvania faculty union, said he anticipates an overwhelming “yes” vote locally and across the state on the strike authorization issue.

The faculty will vote today and Tuesday with the results to be tabulated in Harrisburg, possibly as early as Friday.

Those results might be known in time for the next rounds of talks in Harrisburg.

Brown, a member of the faculty negotiations team, said there are some major issues that have yet to be resolved, including potential pay increases, class size and health insurance benefits.

Brown noted that one health class at Cal. U, for example, has 99 students.

“I was a student at Cal U many years ago and one of the reasons I chose it was because of the smaller class sizes. That’s one of the reasons students attend Cal U, so they can get individualized attention.”

Brown said his frustration over the lack of progress reflects that of his peers.

“Overall, it’s a disgruntled faculty that is not pleased at all with the State System of Higher Education’s approach to negotiations,” Brown said.

If the professors vote “yes,” it would give the union’s executive committee the power to call a strike vote if and when it deems it to be necessary. The executive committee would make that decision based on negotiations committee reports.

Asked if a strike is imminent, Brown said, “We’re scheduled to negotiate with the State System on Friday. We’ll see how it progresses.”

SSHE faces a massive deficit, Gluck said. While costs have risen, state subsidies have not.

As public school districts await a state budget that will detail general subsidies, the Legislature has already agreed upon a subsidy figure for SSHE. Unfortunately for SSHE, that figure represents a 5 percent cut from the 2002-03 allotment.

That comes on the heels of a 3 percent cut in 2002-03, and no increase the prior year. Meanwhile, enrollment has increased by 6,000 students, Gluck said.

Gluck said SSHE has a contingency plan prepared in the event of a strike. Although not willing to discuss details of that plan, he noted that faculty members are not obligated to strike, even if its union calls for work stoppage.

“Our goal, in the event of a strike, is to keep the universities open and operating and ensure that students don’t lose any time toward their graduation dates.”

Brown said the professors are concerned about the potential effect of a strike on the students.

“That’s our dilemma,” Brown said. “We don’t want the students hurt and we truly want the system to understand our demands without a job action. We’re trying to give the system every opportunity to negotiate.

“I keep going back to an old African proverb that says ‘when elephants fight, the grass dies.’ The students are the grass in this situation.”


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