Preparing for a stalemate
CSU faculty union vote will determine whether to strike come fall
The first-floor hallway of Chico State’s Kendall Hall serves as Strike Vote Central this week, as local members of the California Faculty Association cast their ballots to authorize a strike if contract negotiations don’t move forward.
If union members approve, a series of two-day rolling strikes could occur across the 23-campus California State University system, though likely not until the fall semester. It would be the first system-wide strike in CSU history.
The CFA represents more than 23,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches in the CSU system, and has been locked in contract negotiations with the office of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed since June 2010. CSU officials contend the union’s requests for a 1 percent pay increase and to move away from using part-time and temporary instructors could spell financial disaster, but CFA members say it’s not about the money.
“There’s a lot of things, from our perspective, that are about administrative discretion and administrative control,” said Susan Green, statewide CFA treasurer and professor of history and Chicano studies at Chico State. “We’re aware that it’s hard times for everyone, that it can’t be about big raises, and that’s not what folks are asking for.”
Green said faculty consultation and workload—particularly regarding class size—is a primary issue.
“We’re trying to protect the quality of education for students,” she said. “I think if you ask any student at Chico State if classes get better when there’s 60 students instead of 45, they’re going to say no. It makes things harder for everyone. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.”
Green also said the current proposal from the Chancellor’s Office puts job security solely in the hands of university presidents.
“Right now we have an extensive process where colleagues evaluate each other; we observe people’s classes,” she said, “and all that would be out the window, and it would be at the whim of the president and administration as to whether there’s some kind of stability for the work force.”
Green contended that some of the CFA’s requests—such as an article on academic freedom—would cost the system nothing but would protect instructors and the quality of education. A proposal to allow counseling staff to use the same early-retirement program as teaching faculty would actually save the CSU millions, she said.
In-person voting began this past Monday and lasts through Friday (April 27). Online voting began last week. The results will be announced May 2, just before mediation on May 3 and 4. If mediation fails again, a “fact finder” will be appointed to study both sides’ arguments and propose a compromise. The Chancellor’s Office could accept this or push its original offer, in which case an affirmative strike vote would come into play.
Green explained the two-day strikes would not occur simultaneously, but in groups at different times: “It won’t be all 23 campuses at the same time, because that would be incredibly disruptive,” she said. “We don’t want to strike at all, so we’re hoping the Chancellor’s Office returns to the table to bargain in good faith.”
Preliminary strikes took place last November on CSU campuses at Dominguez Hills and East Bay.
This is the first time online voting has been used by the CFA, Green said. Two CFA members working the voting table on Tuesday (April 24)—CFA field staff member Jason Conwell and history/American Indian studies professor Lisa Emmerich—said voting had been intermittent on Monday and Tuesday, but it was hard to gauge the overall turnout with the online option.
Though money is not the sole issue, it weighs heavily on the minds of many CFA members, particularly the disparity between faculty and administrative salaries. “It’s kind of crazy when the chancellor of the CSU makes more money than the president of the United States,” Emmerich said. “Unless I’m much mistaken, the level of problems and responsibility aren’t quite equivalent there.”