Just days before California State University professors were expected to walk out on the job, Chancellor Timothy White and the California Faculty Association jointly announced Friday a tentative contract agreement far more expansive than the 5 percent raise teaching staff sought for nearly a year.
The three-year deal averts a massive five-day strike at CSU’s 23 campuses and likely brings to an end months of wrangling over instructor salaries. Among other terms, it will provide a staggered pay increase of 10.5 percent over the next two years to approximately 26,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches.
Though the dispute turned rancorous as the strike loomed – the faculty union organized a protest at the Capitol last week calling White a “liar” with “pants on fire” for saying the university did not have the money this year to offer 5 percent – both sides praised the agreement as a victory for CSU, professors and students, whose classes will not be disrupted while they prepare for finals.
“We are creating more economic stability for faculty so that they can do their job and focus on students,” faculty association President Jennifer Eagan said. “This agreement will not make faculty rich or end all our economic problems. But it will alter the course of our relationship with the chancellor and send a huge signal that we can function as a team.”
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Eagan was complimentary of White for coming to the negotiating table directly in the final days before the deal was reached, a sign of respect to faculty that she said opened the lines of communication and paved the way for the longer-term contract.
White said an independent fact finder’s report released late last month that largely sided with faculty changed the administration’s thinking about the problem. Recognizing the report’s conclusion that instructors make less on average at CSU than peer institutions, and that the university’s budget for the year was mostly spent, he said, allowed them to “crack the Rubik’s Cube of finding a way to do this” and move to a three-year plan.
The first raise of 5 percent will kick in June 30 and another 2 percent increase follows on July 1, essentially keeping salaries flat for the fiscal year that is almost over and giving faculty a 7 percent increase next year. The final 3.5 percent raise takes effect on July 1, 2017, along with additional 2.65 percent bumps for about 12,000 teaching staff members at the lower end of their pay rank.
CSU will use money previously set aside for compensation hikes this year and next year to cover most of the first increase. But White added that the disagreement over pay is a “symptom of a much stronger problem” with California underfunding the university. He plans to ask for more money from the state to cover the final year of the contract, which he estimates will cost about $200 million overall.
“Salary problems take many years to develop and will likewise take many years to solve,” he said. “It gives us the breathing room we need to achieve this with the help of lawmakers.”
While dozens of legislators, including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, expressed support for the faculty’s “Fight for Five” campaign, Gov. Jerry Brown has repeatedly rebuffed the notion that he might revisit a deal struck with higher education leaders last May for four years of funding increases. CSU is already slated to receive a $130 million boost to its 2017-18 budget.
“We anticipate that CSU will accommodate this (contract) in the context of the guaranteed funding increases under the governor’s plan,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance.
The faculty association began agitating for the raise last spring.
According to data from CSU and the union, there are nearly 10,000 tenured or tenure-track professors in the system making an average of about $84,000 per year. But lower-paid lecturers, many of whom are only part time, now make up more than half the teaching staff in the system. They receive an average rate per-class equivalent to a $50,645 salary.
In a series of reports, faculty argued that they were persistently underfunded during the past decade as 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. Pointing to years of stagnant wages during the recession, the union said many of its members were struggling to make a living.
In May, faculty voted to reopen their contract, rejecting a 2 percent pay hike offered to all CSU employees as “insultingly low” and kicking off 11 months of negotiations, protests and public bickering. During that time, the university maintained it could not afford the union’s demands, which would cost three times what it had budgeted for.
But the threat of a systemwide instructor walkout – which the union touted as the largest higher-education strike in U.S. history – ultimately changed the calculation. CSU faculty previously held a strike only once, in 2011, picketing for one day on two campuses to protest budget cuts.
The contract must still be ratified by the CSU board of trustees, which meets in May, and the faculty union, which said it will have members vote by the end of the month. It also increases the minimum raise for promotions from assistant to associate professor or from associate to full professor to 9 percent from 7.5 percent.
But faculty did make one concession: For new instructors hired starting in fall 2017, it will take twice as long – 10 years – to become fully eligible for retirement health benefits, which the university hopes will cut costs for the program over the long run.
Eagan said they recognized that overhauling health and pension benefits is a priority for the state. Though those affected by the change were not at the negotiating table, she said, “That’s still an extraordinary benefit that our future employees will enjoy.”
The faculty association celebrated the deal Friday at its headquarters on K Street. It will now turn its attention to legislation it sponsored this session, including Assembly Bill 2019 from Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, which creates a system for regular service raises.
After the announcement, Nicki Mehta, a lecturer in the College of Education at Sacramento State and co-chair for the union’s strike committee, broke down in tears. Having worked on the campaign for more than a year, Mehta said the symbolic message of their victory was overwhelming.
“It just feels good to be recognized for the hard work that we do,” she said.