Faculty members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) began the three-day process of have regular members vote on a strike authorization.
“At the end of every day, the boxes are sealed and put off onto a third party so that they are completely out of APSCUF’s hands,” Dr. Kevin Mahoney, head of Public Relations for the KU chapter of APSCUF, said in an interview on Tuesday. At the end of voting, the sealed boxes are sent over night to the state office in Harrisburg where they are counted.
On Friday, APSCUF officials will open up all of the boxes in Harrisburg and count the votes there.
In order for a vote to pass, there must be a simple majority. However, Mahoney hopes that there would be much more than a simple majority of members voting for a strike if the authorization vote passes.
According to Mahoney, this is now giving people the opportunity to really consider what it means to strike.
“I would say that many of the terms of the contract, at least what PASSHE is offering right now, people find just unacceptable,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said that he does not believe that at this point union members have given up on the possibility of a settlement.
“I can’t think of any faculty member, who has said ‘I wanna (sic) go on strike now,’ everyone wants to avoid this,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said that the difference between this year’s negotiations and when APSCUF last negotiated with PASSHE over a different contract four years ago is that four years ago, APSCUF was less willing to come to a settlement and moved much more quickly for a strike.
“We used to have a slogan that was ‘no contract, no work,’ which meant that if we didn’t have a contract by June 30, than we wouldn’t work,” Mahoney said.
If that had happened four years ago, the union would have gone on strike during the summer.
This time, according to Mahoney, has been different because the teachers are going on 16 months without a contract.
“This time, we’re not trying to ramp everyone up and get everyone angry,” Mahoney said.
APSCUF has hired a professional negotiator and is taking a more relaxed approach to the negotiations. Mahoney said that they are taking the approach that they understand everyone is going through rough economic times and are not asking for a pay raise.
The main argument comes from what PASSHE has proposed for temporary staff and for healthcare for new hires.
“For current staff, they want to raise the co-pay on our health insurance,” Mahoney said, which, according to him, is not the issue. The issue APSCUF has with the healthcare plan is that it will change for new hires.
The retirement plan that PASSHE has proposed will give new hires a voucher for a certain amount of money for every year of their service. Which many teachers, according to Mahoney find appalling.
“It feels like they are trying to divide us to win us over,” Mahoney said. He believes that by cutting the salary and benefits for temporary faculty, PASSHE is trying to push tenured and tenure-track of the argument.
“They got rid of the salary cuts for temporary faculty, but they want to get rid of the cap on how many temporary teachers can be hired so that they can hire more part-time temporary faculty,” Mahoney said.
However, APSCUF has gained some victories in negotiations. Last Friday, they were able to get PASSHE to agree on putting back in benefits for same-sex domestic partners that had been taken out of the contract because of a dispute over the language.
“What happened last time is that the state found a loophole in the language. So, that they said when a faculty member retires, his or her partner loses benefits,” Mahoney said.
The language of the contract has been an issue for APSCUF, which Mahoney believes is not an act of good faith.
“It used to be that if there was a discrepancy in how something was interpreted at a later reading of the contract, it would go stay the same as how it was agreed on during the negotiations,”
While still treading lightly, members of APSCUF are slowly beginning the process of getting ready for a strike.
“We’re not moving off of campus yet, but we are encouraging people to have back-ups of all and we’ve started solidarity fund which has about $30,000 in it.”
The solidarity fund is a donation fund that was started by faculty to help out anyone who may need financial help during the strike.
“While on strike, you don’t get paid at all and it is unlikely that we would get any back pay when we came off of strike,” Mahoney said.
In order for a strike to happen, the APSCUF vote has to pass by a simple majority. If it passes, the negotiator has the right to call a strike when he feels that no progress will be made. After he calls for a strike, a meeting between the 14 APSCUF chapter presidents takes place and a super majority of 10 out of 14 have to vote for a strike.
The votes are being counted in Harrisburg on Friday. Go to Thekeystonenews.com for results of strike authorization vote.