How a Strike Was Averted
Averting a strike in the midst of the summer session, negotiators from the faculty union and administration of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education reached a four-year agreement that will now go to the system’s 5,500 faculty for approval.
Union and system leaders came together Tuesday to announce the contract, which gives faculty members pay raises in each of the next four years while raising health insurance premiums in the final year of the contract.
Acknowledging that negotiators often exaggerate the success of a contract agreement, Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said “this is truly as much of a win-win contract as I have ever seen.” Faculty, the state, parents and students will all get something from the agreement, he said.
Faculty will get a lump sum payment, on top of their salaries, of $1,750 during the 2007-8 academic year, followed by raises of 3 percent in 2008-9 and 2009-10, and a raise of 4 percent in 2010-11. There will also be “step” increases, of 2.5 or 5 percent for all faculty but those at the top of the pay scale. Base salaries, which ranged from $43,848 to $91,148, will reach $44,795 to $107,870 by the fourth year of the contract.
Pat Heilman, president of the union, the independent Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said the contract “contains a little bit of something for everybody” on the 14 campuses included in the state system. In addition to pay raises, the contract includes expenditures for tenure-track faculty development and other measures to improve faculty recruitment and retention.
Faculty members will continue to be required to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums during the first three years of the contract, rising to 15 percent in the contract’s fourth year, contingent upon their participation in a wellness program. Faculty members who do not enroll in a wellness program would be required to pay 15 percent in the third year and 25 percent in the fourth year.
Kenn Marshall, the system's spokesman, said the wellness program "hasn't been developed yet" since it will not be required until 2009-10. Kevin Kodish, the union's spokesman, said his group "[doesn't] anticipate [the program] being a major problem" for its members, but rather a tool to keep insurance costs down and be "not invasive in maybe helping people be a little healthier."
Heilman said the contract could at the earliest face a ratification vote by the faculty during the last week of July or the first week of August. When asked whether they would approve it, she responded, “the faculty are independent thinkers.” She then reiterated what she had said earlier: “This contract has a little bit of something for everybody.”
Though Rendell he did not think the negotiations were “ever, per se, a stalemate,” bargaining had been contentious. Last week, the Associated Press reported that Heilman filed an unfair practice charge against Thomas M. Krapsho, the system’s acting vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations, with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Heilman said that a letter in which Krapsho explained how pay and benefits would work during a strike was “meant to scare and intimidate people.”
Marshall told the AP that the system was obligated to inform faculty, that under state law, they would not be able to collect salary or benefits during a strike and that the complaint was "unfounded."
Had there been a strike, as many as 25,000 summer students could have been out of class this week. Though the contract expired on June 30, the faculty agreed Sunday to hold off on a strike until Tuesday at the earliest. On Monday night, the union and system both posted statements announcing that there would be classes on Tuesday.
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