After five days of marathon bargaining, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education has proposed raising faculty pay by nearly 12 percent while seeking contractual changes that would preserve quality and affordability for students and their families—even amid unprecedented fiscal challenges.
The pay package currently on the table for consideration by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) would raise faculty salaries by a combined $159 million over the life of the proposed contract.
“Our faculty provide extraordinary contributions to the success of both our students and our universities, and we recognize that fact,” said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall. “At the same time, the universities are facing their most serious fiscal challenges ever. That also is a fact. We must balance both of these factors in order to achieve a settlement that is fair to everyone, especially to our students.”
The raises the State System is proposing for faculty essentially would track those agreed to earlier this year by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in negotiations with the Commonwealth.
APSCUF is seeking even larger increases.
“We understand that a fair settlement with our faculty will include an increase in compensation, and we are willing to provide that,” said Marshall. “We also have a fiduciary responsibility to our students, taxpayers and the Commonwealth to ensure we can pay for it.
“In combination with the salary increases we have proposed, we need to make important operational changes to allow our universities to be more nimble and flexible while providing ongoing savings in order to preserve quality and keep tuition affordable for our students.”
State System faculty are among the highest paid in the nation, ranking in the top 10 to 15 percent among their peers at similar public colleges and universities. The average total earnings of a full-time faculty member at a System university last year was just under $100,000, not including benefits.
During Wednesday’s session, the State System proposed eight additional bargaining sessions, including meeting through this weekend. APSCUF declined to meet again until next month, and announced its intent to go on strike no later than October 30 unless a new contract is reached.
Earlier this week, an APSCUF spokesperson told the media that the union will hold a strike workshop this weekend.
The raises being offered by the State System would be dependent upon the faculty union agreeing to the same healthcare plan changes already applied to all other employees in the System’s healthcare plan, as well as to other contractual changes that would produce total cost savings of about $70 million.
The healthcare plan design changes would generate about $22 million of those needed savings.
“We are open to finding the additional cost savings through a variety of other measures that were offered to APSCUF,” Marshall said. “The overall cost savings are necessary as we continue our efforts to thoroughly examine our universities’ operations in order to help preserve the System’s long-term future. We are committed to staying at the table to settle this contract as soon as possible, and have provided APSCUF with plenty of options for reaching an agreement.”
Fact Finding Requested
While negotiations between the State System and APSCUF continue, the State System has asked the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to initiate fact finding to ensure continued progress toward an agreement.
The Labor Board could consider the System’s request on Friday.
The fact finding process utilizes a neutral third party to review the proposals of both parties—and the related documentation supporting those proposals—in order to form recommendations that could lead to a settlement.
Though the fact finder’s recommendations would not be binding on either side, they would provide an unbiased perspective on the State System’s and APSCUF’s proposals.
“While the Board of Governors cannot cede its responsibility over the final decision on a new collective bargaining agreement to a third-party, we believe the fact finding process could provide a neutral viewpoint that could help achieve a final agreement,” Marshall said.
If the parties were to reach and ratify an agreement before the conclusion of the fact finder’s work, the fact finding process would end. “We would hope to reach an agreement long before the fact finder’s report is done,” said Marshall.
While fact finding is taking place, a process that takes up to 40 days, a strike could not occur. APSCUF conducted a strike authorization vote on the 14 State System universities two weeks ago, with the membership granting its leadership the authority to call a strike at any time.
Healthcare Plan Changes
The healthcare plan changes sought by the State System mirror those already put into effect for all other employees covered by the System-administered plan, including university health center nurses; campus police and security officers; and all employees not represented by any union, including the chancellor, university presidents and other campus administrators.
Since January those employees have been contributing about $7 to $14 more every two-week pay period toward the cost of their health insurance premium—depending on their level of coverage—than are faculty.
Other plan adjustments made at the beginning of this year include new deductible and co-insurance requirements for some medical services and higher prescription drug co-payments.
The State System worked with its healthcare provider on the plan changes to ensure they would both lower the cost of coverage for the System and continue to provide a level of benefits to employees that is extremely competitive in the higher education market, all without having any effect on the student learning experience or reducing other important services.
“Healthcare is one of the most significant cost drivers affecting our universities,” Marshall said. “With students now supporting almost three-fourths of the universities’ operating budgets through their tuition and fees, it is essential we do more to control those costs while also ensuring our employees continue to have access to a quality, affordable healthcare package. All of our other employees who participate in the System-administered healthcare plan already are contributing to this effort; we are asking our faculty to do the same.”
Temporary Faculty Workload
The State System’s proposal related to the distribution of the workload for temporary faculty recognizes the vital role they play, and how it differs from that of tenured and tenure-track faculty, who would not be affected by the proposed changes for temporary faculty.
All full-time faculty are currently responsible for teaching the equivalent of four courses each semester and for conducting research and providing service to the university.
The State System is proposing that temporary full-time faculty teach one additional course per semester. In exchange, research and service would be eliminated from their workload.
“This will enable temporary faculty to focus on their core purpose—providing excellent instruction to our students,” said Marshall. “Redefining the workload of temporary faculty is intended to both produce overall cost savings for the universities and to help ensure students have access to the courses they need to graduate on time.”
Part-time, temporary faculty—most of whom teach only one or two courses a semester—also would no longer be required to conduct research and provide service to the university. They would continue to be paid on a prorated basis for the number of courses they teach.
While the proposal would reduce the amount paid per course as a result of eliminating the requirement for research and service, the rate would continue to be well above the average amount paid by other colleges and universities in the region and nation.
Temporary faculty who teach at least four courses per semester also would continue to be eligible to receive the same package of healthcare coverage as regular, full-time faculty—a benefit rarely provided to temporary faculty at other colleges and universities nationally.
NewsClips:State University, Faculty Negotiations At Stalemate