SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. (WKBN) – Union faculty members have gone on strike at 14 Pennsylvania state universities, impacting more than 100,000 students.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) union say they are at disagreements with the state on healthcare, salary and use of temporary faculty and distance education.
The union represents 5,500 professors in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Universities on strike include: Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
The faculty has been working under an expired contract since June 30, 2015. The sticking points that have emerged in the talks for a four-year contract have been over changes to health benefits and use of temporary faculty and distance education.
According to CBS affiliate KDKA in Pittsburgh, members of the APSCUF union had previously voted to authorize a strike. Faculty members had never walked out during the state system’s 34-year history.
Contract negotiations between the State System of Higher Education and its faculty union ended Tuesday night without an agreement on a new contract. The APSCUF said on its Facebook page that the state had handed it its last best offer and was done negotiating.
The APSCUF issued this statement on its Facebook page Tuesday night, followed by a series of Facebook Live sessions.
We’d like to reassure our students that we did everything we possibly could to avoid a strike. We will be here should the State System decide not to abandon its students. We do not know how long a strike would last; it would continue until negotiation teams reach an agreement.”
The union said it was reviewing the state’s offer and remained at the bargaining table “ready to talk” through the night.
“The governor urged us to keep on negotiating. He was very clear about that. He personally spoke to both sides and urged us to settle this,” said APSCUF President Kenneth M. Mash. “I find it shocking that Chancellor Frank Brogan would spit in the governor’s eye like that. Through all of this, the governor has been a strong advocate for the students.”
Faculty members and professors have been on the picket line since 5 a.m. Wednesday, including those from Slippery Rock University. Hundreds of union faculty members and supporting students lined the sidewalks around the school Wednesday, chanting for fairness in the faculty’s contracts. They say no contract, no class.
“Our goal is two-fold. The first and most important is to preserve the quality of education at Slippery Rock University. Many of the proposals the state system has give us, we feel, impact the quality of education. By changing workload, by forcing students to take distance education classes and other things like that, and about 25 percent of the issues are around economics, healthcare and salary,” said president of the local faculty union, Ben Shaevitz.
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Peggy Denning, who was also protesting on the sidewalk, has been a professor at Slippery Rock for 27 years. She says the State System of Higher Education’s decisions will cut into their standard of living and will deter anyone new from wanting to work there.
“Our benefits package and our pay, and I believe that does make a difference in the kind of faculty or track because then you attract people who are committed to the long haul.”
Students in support of the strike say the state is cutting into the education they paid for.
“I’m really upset that the state let it come to this. I’m supposed to graduate in May. I should be in biology right now because, of course, the educator I paid for is not there because of the state,” said Anthony DeRosa, a senior.
Regardless of the faculty union strike, students are required to report to scheduled classes unless the university indicates otherwise. The state said it would try to keep classes going, and reminded students that teachers are not required to strike.
Still, some students showed up to empty classrooms and didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing.
“I just ended up leaving. It’s kind of sad because the campus is so bare and there’s barely anyone around,” Brooke Griffin said.
Bryana Dynda says that even though she supports the faculty, the whole situation is confusing.
“I understand where they’re coming from, it’s just a little frustrating because we have no idea what’s going on.”
None of Slippery Rock’s administrators were available to talk. The school’s public relations chair said that students were asked to show up to class as normal, wait ten minutes and if professors didn’t show up, to go about their day.
He said they have to wait until the state decides what it is going to do before the school can make any decisions. For now, they’re encouraging students to start checking their online portals for notifications.
Students are urged to check their online schedules to see if their classes have been temporarily suspended for Thursday. They will not be penalized for missing class.
Larger universities such as Penn State and University of Pittsburgh are not represented by APSCUF.