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The Journal Gazette

October 19, 2016 9:46 AM

Faculty on strike at 14 Pennsylvania state universities

MEGAN TRIMBLE | Associated Press

WEST CHESTER, Pa. – Professors at 14 Pennsylvania state universities went on strike Wednesday, affecting more than 100,000 students, after contract negotiations hit an impasse.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties announced its members went on strike at 5 a.m. because no agreement was reached with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The union represents more than 5,000 faculty and coaches across the state, and the walkout could halt classes midsemester.

This is the first strike in the system's 34-year history. State-related schools —Penn State, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University — are not affected.

The state said despite the strike, students should report to their scheduled classes, unless the university indicates otherwise.

"We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phones will be on, should the State System decide it doesn't want to abandon its students," union president Kenneth Mash said in a statement.

The union includes faculty from Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.

Around the state, faculty members walked picket lines, chanting and carrying red signs declaring "On Strike."

At West Chester University, outside Philadelphia, dozens of professors, students and supporters marched outside the school.

Picketers, many of whom were up most of the night watching strike developments, carried signs and chanted "2, 4, 6, 8, why don't you negotiate?"

Victoria Tischio, a full-time tenured English professor and the university's picket chair, said some 500 of the university's about 950 professors had signed up for the walkout. About 77 percent of the university's professors are full time union members, she said.

"I got my education from state schools and, what motivates me to be here is that my students are every bit as worth that same quality education," Tischio said. "(State system negotiators) say this is a money issue, but we're really out here for work rules and for students."

The school's approximately 17, 000 students received an email from administrators reminding them the university will not close.

University spokeswoman Nancy Gainer said students are expected to attend classes because not all professors will strike. Some professors who walked out also provided assignments in advance, she said.

"The expectation is students should be working," Gainer said. "We're very hopeful negotiations between PSSHE and APSCUF will be fruitful, and should (the strike) only last a few days or weeks, we are very hopeful we will make up any missed classes and work and find the alternative means for students to do so."

State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said they are disappointed the union decided to strike, because they felt they made significant progress toward a settlement overnight.

"We want to get this settled and we need to get it settled on behalf of students," he said Wednesday. "We will do everything we can to get this settled but it takes two. We need cooperation."

No meetings are scheduled, he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement he was "extremely disappointed" that the two sides failed to reach an agreement and urged both sides to return to the bargaining table.

"The shortsightedness on both sides is counter to my efforts on behalf of the system and hurts the dedicated professors and university staff, and students and their families who are paying tuition to these universities," the Democrat said.

The state said overnight its latest proposal would provide raises to all permanent and temporary faculty members and a health care package identical to what other system employees have. In an effort to reach an agreement, the state said it withdrew several proposals including one that would have required full-time temporary faculty to teach an additional class each semester.

"By removing many of the more contentious issues from the table, we have demonstrated our willingness to participate in the normal give-and-take of negotiations," Marshall said. "We believed it also would show APSCUF our eagerness to achieve a new contract. It is clear from their actions, however, that health care and salaries are the real issues in these negotiations."

Marshall said the sides made significant progress during negotiations, including reaching tentative agreements on more than a dozen significant issues, including distance education, recruitment and retention of high-quality faculty and professional responsibilities outside of the classroom. But he said the union refused both the system's salary offer and the proposed health care changes.

"These are difficult times for our universities. If APSCUF won't agree to share more of the costs for their own health care — like everyone else has — it will threaten our ability to keep tuition affordable for students," Marshall said.

The last faculty contract expired June 30, 2015.