News Release

As contract talks break down between Cal State U. faculty and management, a strike could be coming

For Immediate Release – April 10, 2012
  • Faculty to begin strike vote next Monday, April 16
     
  • Fact-finding, last step in official bargaining, comes next

Mediation efforts to reach a new contract for the people who teach in the classrooms, run the libraries, train the athletes, and provide for students’ mental health on the 23 California State University campuses broke down on Friday after months of meetings.

The end of mediation sets in motion a series of events that could result in school not opening this fall for some 400,000 CSU students due to a massive strike.

Andy Merrifield, chair of the faculty union’s Bargaining Team and a professor at Sonoma State University, was disappointed but not surprised.

“We brought very reasonable proposals to the bargaining table and in this fiscal climate, we would have hoped to get further,” he said.

“A better outcome would have been to get back to face-to-face talks, which is what we called for and the university chancellor’s representatives refused. Of course, the best outcome would be to settle this thing.”

Now the process moves to fact-finding, the final step in the legal process to get a contract in public higher education.

STRIKE VOTE

Voting will begin Monday, April 16 on whether the faculty will grant the board of directors of their union, the California Faculty Association, the authority to call a strike if the legally required bargaining process comes to an end without a settlement.

“We hope we will get a contract before the end of this process,” said Merrifield. “If we don’t, the chancellor will unilaterally impose his demands on us. And we have to be ready to respond. That is why we are voting now, so that our members will have the time they need to prepare.”

See more about the Strike Vote and bargaining on the CFA website.

THE ISSUES

Throughout 22 months of talks, the CSU chancellor’s management has held firm to demands for concessions from the faculty’s contract and would not address CFA proposals to slow down increasing class sizes.

Furthermore, even while top executives continue to get big raises, free houses and huge car allowances, CSU management will not even discuss small pay adjustments for teachers, librarians, coaches and counselors, many of whom now earn less than those hired more recently.

Management even refused to make simple low- or no-cost changes to the faculty contract, such as a guarantee of academic freedom to ensure students can learn a wide range of ideas.

A contentious issue still on the table is the escalating shift to a “just in time” teaching force by making more and more faculty positions temporary and short term.

It is shocking to realize that in California’s largest public university more than half of all teaching jobs—some 12,000 people—are temporary rather than regular, stable, permanent jobs.

Currently, Lecturers who have taught in the same department for six years and receive good evaluations can be offered a three-year contract by their department. The chancellor’s proposal would make the offer of multi-year contracts solely at the discretion of top executives on each campus. This change would mean a return to the exploitative practice of firing experienced teachers to hire new ones at lower pay and little or no benefits.

“A three-year contract provides minimal security for our faculty who work on temporary contracts and helps students by providing a greater chance that their faculty will be there to see them through to graduation” said Merrifield.

EXPANDING EXTENSION: TWO-TIER PRICING

The Chancellor’s consultants backed away from their proposal to cut faculty salaries when they teach in the for-profit arms of the CSU during summer. But, they have NOT changed their program to move more and more regular university courses and programs into Extended Education, with higher fees for students and lower pay for faculty.

This trend is forcing students into a two-tiered pricing situation similar to the widely reported measure just dropped by Santa Monica College. To get the classes they need to graduate, students who have the resources can pay extra to take the courses in Extended Education; those who cannot afford it are just stuck.

As the public becomes more aware of the implications of two-tier pricing in our universities, the move to “for-profit” strategies like this one may face legal challenge under California’s education code, which says regular university classes can’t be “supplanted” by classes in university auxiliaries following questionable for-profit models.

PART OF BIGGER THINGS

“We have seen the trend toward what we are calling “for-profitization” from the very start of bargaining this contract,” said CFA President Lillian Taiz, a professor of history at Cal State Los Angeles.

“At the beginning, we offered to extend the contract so that, rather than fighting as we are now, we could be working together to campaign for our university system,” she said. “But the Chancellor, as tone deaf and out-of-touch as ever, insisted on plunging recklessly forward in his drive to model the university after the for profit ‘university’ sector.”

Taiz said, “Faculty throughout our public university are angry and fed-up with the Chancellor’s attacks on us and on the university we all have worked to build over lifetimes. Our contract cannot address everything that is destroying California’s public university system,” Taiz said. “But it is one part of the solution, and we cannot give it up without a fight.”

Merrifield said the push for a fair faculty contract is about making the university a good place to work and to study, and it is also about making the CSU a more public, more committed institution for all Californians, not only those who can afford to pay.

“We are concerned about ourselves, our university, our students and our state,” he said.

See more about development in the privatization of California’s public state university system in “For-Profit Higher Education and the California State University: A Cautionary Tale.”

###

Commands