The California State University faculty union announced Monday that it will strike for five days across all 23 campuses if an ongoing contract dispute is not resolved by the middle of April.
The action depends on the conclusion of a fact-finding arbitration process with the university over a raise for the 2015-16 academic year. If an independent report expected to be released in about six weeks does not bring management back to the negotiating table, the California Faculty Association said it will direct teaching staff to cancel classes and picket April 13-15 and April 18-19.
It would be the first systemwide strike at CSU. Faculty have previously held a strike only once, in 2011, walking out for one day on two campuses to protest budget cuts. Other strike authorizations, including during contract negotiations in 2007 and 2012, were averted by settlements with the administration.
Faculty association president Jennifer Eagan called it “historic,” and said other actions could follow if the strike does not lead to a deal with the university. At a news conference in Sacramento, she said members are frustrated that they have not seen the benefit of a recovering budget after years of stagnant wages during the economic recession.
“The good times came, and we’re still not able to negotiate a good contract,” she said. “Now is the time that was expected to be paid back for all our hard work.”
Arguing that their salaries did not keep up with inflation as teaching staff was persistently underfunded during the past decade, the union has been wrangling over its contract since last May. In a series of reports released during the spring, it asserted that CSU has shifted money away from its core educational mission to other priorities, hiring more administrators and turning to cheaper part-time lecturers rather than tenure-track professors.
The faculty association – which represents approximately 25,000 CSU professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches – is seeking a 5 percent compensation hike, plus an additional 2.65 percent increase for about 12,000 members who are at the lower end of their pay rank.
That is far higher than the 2 percent raise that the university offered this year to all employees, including 30 of its top executives. Faculty rejected that offer as “offensively low,” but CSU officials have countered that the union’s proposal would cost three times as much and consume up to one-half of the $217 million funding increase the system received in the state budget last June.
In a statement, CSU said it “remains committed to reaching a resolution” with faculty, but is now preparing for the possibility of a strike. Campuses would remain open during that time and some classes might be offered.
“The strike should not interfere with students being able to complete their semester and quarter courses and graduate on time,” the university’s statement said.
The faculty could still decide not to strike. Eagan said the union is awaiting the results of the fact-finding report, which it hopes will be favorable to the case they made in arbitration.
But it has raised the stakes considerably in recent weeks: In January, union umbrella groups for the counties encompassing nearly all of the CSU campuses – including the Sacramento Central Labor Council – promised to join the faculty with their own sanctions on the university.
Students were torn about the potential strike.
At Sacramento State, sociology major Darcy Matsuba said it “takes away from my learning, but if my teacher is happy, I’m happy.”
California State Student Association President Taylor Herren said campus representatives have been discussing for months what they might do in the event of a strike. While students empathized with the faculty’s efforts to fight for a living wage, she said, they have also raised objections to their education being used as leverage in negotiations they are not part of. She said it was frustrating that their education might be disrupted when so many students are struggling to pay tuition.
Herren encouraged the union to put as much pressure on the Legislature to increase CSU’s budget allocation as it has on the university administration in its contract dispute.
“Students are just concerned, as this negotiation continues, about where the dollars come from,” she said. “We’re prioritizing affordability.”
Jessica Hice contributed to this report.