Faculty, CSU take dispute to next level

Greg Kane

An 11-month standoff between the faculty union and the California State University resumes today in Long Beach as negotiators continue to search for common ground in an ongoing contract dispute.

The three-day fact-finding hearing marks the first time representatives from the California Faculty Association and the CSU System have met since negotiations for a new contract ended in a stalemate in December. A three-member panel, including negotiators from each side and a third neutral arbitrator, will look at issues that have kept both sides from reaching an agreement since they began in March, said Sam Strafachi, head negotiator for the CSU.

The neutral panelist will take arguments from each side and present them to another panel, which in turn will write a report recommending solutions to the standoff, Strafachi said.

At the heart of the conflict is a 2 percent increase provided in the 2001-02 state budget. The CFA maintains that funds for salary step increases, raises for department chairs and health benefits for part-time lecturers should be included on top of that figure, said CFA Sacramento chapter President Jeff Lustig. The CSU says budget constraints won’t allow any additional funding.

Should the month-long fact-finding process end with no resolution, the CFA is prepared to hold a vote among its members to determine whether a strike is necessary, Lustig said.

There are 569 CFA members at Sacramento State, more than half the faculty members on campus.

“Depending on what happens in fact-finding, we’ll either implement that vote or not,” Lustig said.

A recent report released by the California Postsecondary Education Commission projects a 10.6 percent salary gap between CSU faculty and other comparable universities. The average full-time CSU faculty member earns $68,470, compared to $75,743 at 20 similar universities in the study.

When negotiations began last March, the union requested a 5.7 percent increase for compensation, Lustig said. By October, that figure had shrunk to a “real” 2 percent, plus provisions for health benefits and salary step increases on top of that, but an agreement could not be reached.

“It’s been out there on the table since October,” Lustig said, adding that he wasn’t sure whether that would be the CFA’s offer when fact-finding begins.

The union has also theorized that the salary step increases essentially pay for themselves, since retiring faculty earn more in those increases than the lower-paid, newer professors, Lustig said.

The theory is that the money saved when a faculty member retires supplements any new step increases, and should therefore not be included with compensation funds, he said.

“It’s like a bus that can hold 30 people,” Lustig said. “People get in the front door, but they’re getting out the back door also.”

Strafachi said any money for step increases left over from retiring faculty goes toward promotion and hiring of new faculty, including air fare, lab costs, housing and other recruitment costs.

“You’re not going to find anywhere in the country where faculty get increases that are funded by faculty turnover,” Strafachi said. “Not a single institution in the country is doing what the CFA says we should be doing with these pay increases.”

The union did bring it’s offer down during mediation in October, asking for an additional $13.2 million for increases and benefits on top of the proposed 2 percent, Strafachi said.

However, he anticipates it will enter the hearing looking for its initial request of $46 million more than what’s provided in the budget.

“They want to go into fact-finding to argue for as much as they can get,” Strafachi said.Strafachi doesn’t believe the majority of faculty members would support a work stoppage if the opportunity arose, saying the union’s tactics don’t represent the views of the average professor.

“I think these extreme bargaining procedures of the CFA are the belief of the leadership, not the faculty,” Strafachi said. “I don’t think they’re going to abandon the students in the classroom.”

If faculty did strike, it would likely begin with one-day rolling rather than completely shutting down the campus, Lustig said. If those didn’t work, he said, “We’d have to up the ante.”

The issue of faculty workloads is also on the table, Lustig said. Many faculty members in the CSU teach eight classes a year, and the current student boom has increased advising duties. These numbers are far higher than comparable universities, he said.

“An eight-course load is a very heavy load in America,” Lustig said. “The heaviest, probably.”

Strafachi said the money to hire additional faculty simply isn’t available, and the union doesn’t make it any easier by condemning the hiring of part-time lecturers to fill classrooms. Budget money would never be able to provide what the CFA is asking for, he said.

“If we give in to the salary demands or workload demands, in the final analysis, it has to come from enrollment money,” Strafachi said.

The CFA is the last organization in the System to not agree to the 2 percent increase. The faculty’s contract expired in July 2001.