State System addresses faculty union negotiations
August 11, 2016
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education continues to bargain in good faith with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the union that represents faculty at the 14 state-owned universities. The two sides have met 18 times since negotiations began last year with the latest session concluding Aug. 10.
"We have remarkable faculty members -- men and women who regularly contribute to the success of our students," said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall. "Despite the claims by APSCUF, we are committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to everyone, while recognizing that our System is facing real and unprecedented financial challenges."
The current salaries of State System faculty are among the highest in the nation --ranking near the top 10 to 15 percent among their peers at similar public institutions -- a fact acknowledged by an APSCUF campus leader in an open letter to his colleagues and posted on the union's website earlier this year. The salary comparison is compiled annually by the American Association of University Professors and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
"The State System is proud of the fact that our faculty are compensated so well," said Marshall. "That helps us recruit and retain talented individuals for our universities. We all agree that our faculty do vital work and deserve fair compensation, but we also have to understand that money is not flowing the way it did decades ago. When the State System was founded more than 30 years ago, the state funded about two-thirds of the universities' operations; today, state funds support only about one-fourth of those costs, with the rest coming out of the pockets of our students and their families."
Increases in operating costs for the universities -- especially in the areas of healthcare and pensions -- have been outpacing changes in revenues. Despite recent increases in funding from the Commonwealth each of the last two years, the System remains funded at about the same level it was at the turn of the century. And, even with increasing tuition by 2.5 percent for this fall, the System again began the fiscal year in July with a budget deficit.
"That deficit will continue to grow as each labor union contract is finalized in the coming months, unless there are savings found in areas such as healthcare and unless we all find new and better ways to serve students," said Marshall. "We can't just keep raising tuition on students to cover all of these costs. That runs contrary to our mission as high-value, high-quality universities for Pennsylvanians."
Throughout these negotiations, APSCUF has complained about the State System's practice of posting online the various proposals that have been submitted by each side. These negotiations are the most impactful to the System. Without minimizing the rest of the complement, APSCUF represents the System's largest and most visible bargaining unit. Students and their families have by far the greatest interest in the progress/outcome of these negotiations, especially in how they could affect students and the school year.
The posting of summaries, updates and proposals is not new. In fact, both sides have utilized this practice to one extent or another dating back to 1999.
In media statements, the faculty union has claimed that the State System is not serious about these negotiations.
"They are wrong," Marshall said. "Our team has worked hard to review the entire contract -- top to bottom -- and has made detailed proposed edits to the 146-page document so that the two sides would have something concrete from which to work. We have done our homework, and we remain prepared to negotiate. And, while we hope APSCUF is making every effort to understand the financial realities facing our universities, the union's demands for costly new items such as free memberships to on-campus fitness facilities suggests otherwise."
From the earliest days of these negotiations, APSCUF has raised the prospect of a strike. It has scheduled a special session of its legislative assembly for later this month to seek approval to take a strike authorization vote among its membership. Such authorization votes have been standard practice for APSCUF in each of the past four rounds of contract negotiations.
"This vote would be the first of a number of steps required for APSCUF to call for a strike -- an action that would be devastating to students," said Marshall. "We can only hope that APSCUF recognizes both the short-term and long-term impacts a strike would have on our students and quite possibly, the future existence of some universities. Only the union can decide whether to ask its members to walk out on students.
"The fact remains that the System wants to find a solution that is fair to everyone -- a solution that focuses on serving our students first. After all, nearly 75 cents of every dollar invested in our universities comes from students and their families. They are our primary stakeholders.
"Students and faculty are the heart and soul of our institutions and we are working hard to provide the resources they need even in the midst of mounting fiscal challenges. We remain hopeful that the union will stay at the table with us until the work is done."
The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Aug. 25 and 26. Additional sessions also are scheduled for Aug. 31 and Sept. 16 and 21.
MEDIA CONTACT: Kenn Marshall | 717.720.4045 | firstname.lastname@example.org