PHILADELPHIA – State university faculty frustrated with the lack of progress in contract negotiations on Friday gave their union leaders the authority to call a strike.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said its membership displayed strong turnout and overwhelming solidarity in the vote held this week at 14 public campuses, including California University of Pennsylvania.
Ballots were tallied Friday, with 95 percent favoring strike authorization. The vote empowers union chapter presidents at each school to call a strike; 10 of the 14 must approve a walkout.
“Our members are united for a fair contract that benefits all faculty and students by maintaining quality education,” union President Steve Hicks said in a statement.
Officials at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education had no comment on the vote, but they said they remain committed to a fair settlement.
The system has never had a faculty strike.
The union represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches who have been working without a contract since June 2011. Bargaining has stalled over issues including pay for part-time instructors, health care benefits and compensation for online education.
Dr. Michael Slavin, president of the union chapter at Cal U., who was among a group of faculty meeting with state system officials Friday in Harrisburg on unrelated issues, said he was very pleased with the vote for strike authorization.
“Our people are ready,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll do it.”
Slavin said a strike would have devastating effects and the faculty hopes they won’t have to see it come to fruition.
“We don’t want to hurt our students,” he said.
Lisa Millhous, president of the union chapter at West Chester University, said Friday the strike vote was necessary “because it feels like the only way to get movement (on contract talks) is to have a threat.”
“We are trying our best to solve this without a strike,” said Millhous, a communications professor. “None of us wants to strike.”
The union’s negotiations committee is planning to meet within the next 10 days to discuss a potential strike date.
However, another bargaining session is also set for Dec. 11. Universities Chancellor John Cavanaugh said he looks forward to seeing the union’s latest proposal.
In an interview Thursday, Cavanaugh disputed the contention that faculty are being asked for more concessions than other unionized employees. Negotiators have reached agreements, or tentative agreements, with the system’s other six bargaining units, he noted.
“Every contract that we’ve settled so far has changes in work rules and other aspects that gave us significant cost savings,” Cavanaugh told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, classes will continue for the 120,000 students at the state universities in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
The fall semester ends Dec. 7, with finals starting Dec. 10.
Staff writer Andy McNeil contributed to this report.