CFA members vote in support of strike, negotiations stalemate continues

Brett Johnson

After nearly two years of unsuccessful labor negotiations, there continues to be no agreement between California Faculty Association and California State University’s contract bargaining teams – prompting the faculty union to prepare for a CSU-wide strike.

Leadership of the CFA originally called for members of the union to vote on a strike on April 16 through 20. The CFA represents around 24,000 faculty, but only 12,501 are members. Of that pool, around 70 percent responded.

The voters responded in overwhelming support, coming in with around 95 percent in favor of a strike.

“They announced what they are calling a ‘strike vote,’ but it’s not actually a strike vote,” said CSU spokesman Erik Fallis. “It’s a vote to defer the authority to call a strike from the (CFA) membership to the union’s leadership. It would allow that leadership to call a strike at some point.”

The faculty authorization allows for two-day strikes at each of the CSU’s campuses, one after another. However, this can only happen if negotiations between the CFA and CSU come to an impasse.

The vote could not call for an immediate strike because of state law, which makes it illegal to strike on labor issues that have yet to be fully resolved in contract negotiations.

“All of this is jumping ahead of where we are in the process,” Fallis said. “Frankly, it’s irrelevant to what has been happening at the negotiation table. On (May 4 through 6), our bargaining team sat down with the faculty union and tried to work through the limited issues that are still out there and haven’t been resolved.”

Some of the unresolved issues proposed by the CFA include a 1 percent general salary increase for faculty and 1,000 more tenure-track faculty to be hired by 2013-14, along with requests for more academic freedom.

Meanwhile, the CSU proposed changes ranging from a stricter evaluation process for professors to not having the system pay reimbursement for faculty conducting union business.

The process of working through these issues has come to a halt following the last few days of negotiations, according to a press release from the CSU. The release stated the CFA “walked out of negotiations,” and the organization did so “without offering any counter-proposals.”

Kevin Wehr, president of Sacramento State’s chapter of the CFA, was involved in the faculty union’s side of the bargaining. He said the CSU’s team discussed its proposals the first two days and talks were going in a positive direction. However, he said the situation changed once the faculty discussed its proposals.

“That last meeting could definitely be characterized as schizophrenic,” Wehr said. “Things were going well and then when it came time to discuss faculty issues – things broke down again. However, the CFA bargaining team is willing to continue to negotiate in good faith on issues that remain important to faculty.”

Wehr said it was unclear as to whether negotiations will next be moved into one of the final phases, which involves bringing in a neutral fact-finding party to hear both sides and propose a solution.

Prior to the announcement of the bargaining table disagreement, Fallis said the CSU was hopeful those involved in the negotiations would find common ground before it reaches that point.

“(The CSU’s bargaining team) is doing the good work that needs to be done to try to find an agreement,” Fallis said. “We are hopeful that there will be an agreement. The CFA’s bargaining team has indicated they’re looking for and hoping for an agreement, but it appears the faculty union’s leadership is putting out a different message.”

Concerted actions could become a legal option for the union’s leadership if the CSU decides to impose a final, best offer to the CFA following the fact-finders’ recommendations.

“Likely one side will approach the other once they are ready to resume negotiations at the bargaining table,” Wehr said. “If the negotiations end up going to a fact-finding committee, it will be sometime in the summer … If a strike happens, it could be as early as the fall (semester).”

Brett Johnson can be reached at [email protected].