Faculty weighing options on possible strike

Brett Johnson

Faculty at Sacramento State convened on Thursday following President Alexander Gonzalez’s spring address to discuss the state of labor negotiations with the California State University system and the possibility of striking.

The update was presented by the California Faculty Association, a union focused on protecting the rights of faculty employed by the CSU. The CFA is in the process of negotiating with the CSU over changes to its successor contract, which dictates policies regarding pay, benefits and academic freedom.

The meeting’s purpose was to recruit members for a “strike organizing team,” which would plan out the details behind possible upcoming faculty protest. The team discussed political figures they could ellicit support from, including centrally-located Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a legislator with an office at Sac State.

“This semester is going to be about spreading the word to other faculty,” said Lois Boulgarides, kinesiology professor and CFA member. “We’re building a web that we hope will grow. Our movement is really going to need input from the faculty.”

The reason CFA is allowed to go on strike is not their successor contract, but the reopened salary negotiations from last year. In these negotiations, the CFA proposed a 1 percent raise for faculty this year, next year and the year following, and associate professors receive the back pay promised in the 2008-09 contract.

“Based on the severe cuts in state support to the CSU system, it just was not appropriate to award millions to a small group of faculty,” said Erik Fallis, CSU spokesman. “If it were to be awarded, the burden would have to fall on students. There is not enough money in the CSU to cover a gap like that.”

The two sides went through the entire contract bargaining process without coming to an agreement. Eventually, the CSU put forth its final offer – that salaries remain unchanged – allowing the CFA to legally conduct concerted actions.

“They plead poverty, but the operating budget of the CSU is actually the same as it was in 2007-08, because they have raised student tuition,” said Jason Conwell, regional staff representative for Sacramento’s chapter of the CFA. “We’re asking for a small percentage of their budget to go to faculty members that were promised money.”

Last semester the CFA conducted its first series of concerted actions, picketing at CSUs, including Sac State, and gathering faculty to strike at CSU Dominguez Hills and CSU East Bay on Nov. 17.

“My disappointment is that after putting two campuses through disruption – the CFA in the same week walked away from bargaining table,” Fallis said. “That seemed to send a mixed signal.”

The CFA brought the negotiation to California’s Public Employment Relations Board to request an impasse – bringing contract bargaining to mediation, which means the state provides an appointed individual to work with both sides to bring them to an agreement.

If the two sides continue to disagree, the negotiations will go to a fact-finding committee. If the sides choose not to follow the fact-finder’s recommendation, then the employer, or the CSU in this case, must impose a final, best offer. If the CFA were to refuse, it could legally take action based on the successor contract.

“If we go on strike on the issues laid out in the successor contract, it’s not going to be about money. It’s going to be about our rights to teach,” Boulgarides said. “That’s something faculty can definitely get behind.”

The CFA’s strike organizing team will meet three times a month to continue to strategize. Boulgarides said she is confident concerted actions could be done “without disrupting students.”

Brett Johnson can be reached at [email protected].