Monday, March 26, 2007

Academic Strikes Suspended in Pa. and Ca.

Inside Higher Education reports on two union actions that include academic librarians.

The faculty union and the administration at the Community College of Philadelphia reached a tentative agreement Sunday to end a strike that started March 13 and has halted classes since then.

Also on Sunday, the faculty union and the administration at the California State University System agreed to a short extension of the current contract — through April 6 — with the goal of resolving contract differences without a strike. “Rolling strikes” have been expected to start as early as next week.

Community College of Philadelphia

A statement from the Philadelphia two-year college said only that a tentative settlement had been reached and that the deal would be presented for approval to the union membership and the college’s board. The statement said that employees were expected to work today and that classes would resume tomorrow.

During the negotiations, the union has repeatedly accused the college of failing to release necessary financial information and of spending money foolishly, limiting the funds available for student and faculty needs. The college has repeatedly said that it is trying to offer as much as possible. The faculty members are represented by the Faculty & Staff Federation of the Community College of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Issues of both wages and health insurance divided the faculty union and administration during negotiations. Professors said that a proposed rollback in insurance coverage would have resulted in a net decrease in compensation for faculty members. The college withdrew those ideas, but it stuck firmly to its salary proposal: raises averaging 3.62 percent a year. The college did not disclose any contract terms Sunday.

But Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the union, said that the salary compromise stuck with the 3.62 percent figure, but added $160,000 a year in extra funds to bump up salaries of some faculty members. The funds will not be distributed across the board, but under a formula that will provide extra help to those whose salaries have been particularly inadequate, Horwitz said.

The contract will run for five years, but it is retroactive to last year’s expiration of the previous contract.

Horwitz credited Rep. Bob Brady, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia and who is currently running for mayor, for leading negotiations to resolve the strike. The deal represented compromise for both sides, Horwitz said. The union’s original salary demand would have required $2.5 million on top of the spending needed for the 3.62 percent raises. The bonus funds are $800,000 on top of the funds needed for the 3.62 percent raises.

The strike focused considerable public attention on the financial issues facing the college, Horwitz said, and may end up resulting in more support and awareness of the institution.

California State University System

Sunday was also a key day for the California State University System, where the faculty union — representing more than 24,000 people — voted last week to authorize a strike if negotiations didn’t lead to a new contract. The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had talked about a series of “rolling strikes” taking place for a few days at a few Cal State campuses at a time. The union and administration have been divided about salary and other issues.

On Sunday, amid reports that the rolling strikes could start as early as next week, an independent fact finder released a report on the disputes, suggesting that a series of compromises could avert a strike.

The announcement by the Cal State administration that the union had agreed not to start any job actions until at least April 6 said that both sides had a goal of reaching a framework for a contract by then, along the lines suggested by the fact finder. The settlement discussion “tracks very closely” with the report, said the Cal State statement.

A statement from the union also called the fact finder’s report the key to a settlement, and called on the system administration to “face the facts” and make additional concessions along the lines of those suggested in the report.

— Scott Jaschik

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