By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
SLIPPERY ROCK —
Contract talks between the state and the university faculty union that includes Slippery Rock University will resume after the holidays and in the meantime, both sides have issued some thoughts on how negotiations have been going.
"Our overriding concern, as it has been throughout these negotiations, is the cost to our students and their families," said Gary Dent, vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Students at the 14 state-owned universities pay about 73 percent of the costs needed to run the schools through tuition and fees, he said.
PASSHE wants cost savings to offset proposed salary increases; a redesigned healthcare plan similar to the one provided to other state employees, including the governor and his cabinet; and a plan to address healthcare costs for those who receive annuities,
"We have made clear the essential elements we need in this agreement...In its latest response, APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) rejected almost every element with the exception of levels of compensation," Dent said.
Union members, who in November voted in favor of authorizing its leadership to call a strike, said they're focused on settling a fair contract with PASSHE that continues to provide high quality education to the more than 115,000 students in the system. "APSCUF faculty do not want to go on strike -- it is a last resort," the union's website said.
The union's key points of the negotiations include compensation for part-time temporary faculty, healthcare for active members and annuitants and distance education.
Extra compensation should be received by faculty hired under an agreement that didn't include the "substantial effort to develop this platform," said SRU professor Dr. Patrick Burkhart, president of the SRU chapter of the union, referring to distance education.
"There is also the consistent effort to divide our membership along the line of permanent versus temporary positions. APSCUF is very troubled by this position," he said by email.
The union is seeking full-time, tenure-track faculty to offer the best education to students and about one-third of the PASSHE budget is earmarked for instructional expenses. "This distribution suggests that draconian salary and benefits cuts to faculty are unwise and unfavorable to quality education," Burkhart said, adding the union has offered to make concessions toward increased healthcare costs.
The union says it's been receiving overwhelming support from other organizations, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Equality Pennsylvania and multiple labor unions across the state.
"PSEA is an ardent supporter of collective bargaining rights. From our experience, a contract settlement that is fair to faculty improves the conditions in which students learn. Instead, PASSHE is pursuing a collective bargaining strategy far worse than those negotiated with the financially strapped Commonwealth," PSEA President Michael J. Crossey said in a statement on the APSCUF website.
Union representatives said they hope a new contract is resolved before PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh leaves his post at the end of February, an announcement that was made Thursday.
Peter Garland, executive vice chancellor, will take over on an acting basis after Cavanaugh leaves. Cavanaugh will run the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area.
The union, which includes coaches, has been working without a contract since July 1, 2011. About 380 of the 6,000 members work for SRU.
The two sides plan to resume talks on Jan. 4.
Besides Slippery Rock, the state universities have campuses in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester.
PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Published Dec. 26, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.