The California Faculty Association (CFA) will vote on whether to hold a system-wide strike next month, adding a new layer to more than a year of negotiations between the union and the California State University (CSU) system.
If passed, the strike would last for two days at each of the 23 CSU campuses. Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor and CFA chapter president Glen Thorncroft said the strikes would be staggered “to create a maximum (public relations) impact.”
“A strike is like ripping a Band-Aid off,” Thorncroft said. “You want to expose the problems and fix them.”
The strike vote stems from union frustration over the lack of a working contract for faculty at the CSU campuses. The two parties last agreed on a contract in 2007, after the CFA threatened to strike and prompted CSU Chancellor Charles Reed to accept a new contract.
Renegotiations over a lack of funding for that contract have failed twice, igniting a faculty strike at two CSU campuses last November. Those strikes were not effective as union bargaining tactics, Thorncroft said.
But CFA spokesperson Brian Ferguson said a series of rolling strikes would be more effective in sending a message to the chancellor than the one-day strikes were last year.
“The one in November was about a very specific issue,” Ferguson said. “That was about raises from the last contract.”
A strike at Cal Poly could mean a two-day, campus-wide shutdown similar to what union demonstrators organized at the two campuses in November. CSU spokesperson Erik Fallis declined to comment on specific plans if a strike were to occur. He said the union’s call for a vote to strike is premature.
“We’ve been trying to be negotiating in good faith, whereas the CFA hasn’t shown much commitment in mediation,” Fallis said.
In the event of a strike, union members from throughout California could join Cal Poly faculty in San Luis Obispo. Thorncroft said protestors would attempt to block roadways leading into campus, but try to minimize the effect on students’ academic experience.
“We’re at a point when, because there is a new contract, there is new contract language,” he said. “There are some points in the contract that are completely unacceptable.”
Some of the union’s biggest problems with the proposed labor contract are wording that allows for renegotiations of salary and benefits that have the potential to lower faculty pay. But Fallis said these same conditions existed in the previous contract and were not used to lower salary.
“Other than the furloughs, we have never asked for salary to be lowered,” Fallis said.
Ferguson said the CFA is focused more on retaining what benefits the faculty currently has, rather than increasing salary and benefits for the 20,000 faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches the union represents. The union previously asked for cost-of-living increases and raises that were guaranteed under the 2007 contract, but it was unable to secure either in further bargaining between the two sides.
“We’re basically looking for many things to remain at the status quo,” Ferguson said. “We’re just looking at keeping in place many rights that currently exist for faculty.”
A vote to strike typically increases union membership from faculty, Thorncroft said. Some Cal Poly professors have seen first-hand the financial hardship from the prolonged contract negotiations, and Thorncroft said they might want to join the union to send a message to the chancellor.
“There are things that attracted faculty to this institution,” Thorncoft said. “We have faculty choosing whether or not to have kids, whether or not to buy a house, whether or not to sell a house.”
Thorncroft said he expects the vote to come back in favor of a strike, though there is no sign of when that protest might occur.
Before union members are legally allowed to strike, they must complete the current mediation phase of negotiations, and then move on to a fact-finding panel. A strike may only occur if the union declines a final offer from the chancellor that would come after the fact finders come to a decision.
Fallis, however, is hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement long before then.
“Every time our bargaining team goes to table it’s to come to an agreement,” he said.