CSU Faculty Stage Pickets Across State, Ready to Strike
Educators in the state’s largest public university system staged pickets across the state Tuesday, hoping to draw attention to their faltering negotiations with California State University for a new contract.
If they fail to reach an agreement with the administration, the California Faculty Association’s 23,000 members could call for a strike, which would be the largest faculty strike in U.S. history.
The pickets come on the heels of the overwhelming 95-percent approval rating by members of an authorization to strike should the last round of bargaining fail. As part of the now 23-month-old contract dispute, the two sides had agreed to return to the bargaining table, but according to the CSU, faculty negotiators walked away from those talks Sunday night.
“We’re really trying to put pressure on the CSU to work with us,” said Phil Klasky, a lecturer in the Department of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. “We have invited them to work with us to find more resources.”
The two sides remain at odds over a few remaining issues, including a review process for contract lecturers, class cap sizes and pay for faculty union representatives.
CSU spokesman Erik Fallis said that the pickets and strike vote are not necessarily productive to the process, however. “It’s not relevant to the process right now,” he said. “It has no bearing on the work that’s being done.”
Fallis maintained that the university’s goal is to reach an agreement before a strike can legally be called. While the union membership authorized its leadership to call for a strike should final negotiations fall through, that cannot be done unless the next stage of the lengthy process, called fact-finding, also fails.
During fact-finding, both sides will present their arguments to a third-party negotiator in yet another attempt to reach a mutual agreement.
At the end of that process, if they have not agreed on a new contract, then the faculty could call for a strike.
“You push people to a point where you have to protest,” said Sean Kelly, a political science professor at Cal State Channel Islands.
During the picket at San Francisco State University Tuesday, faculty passed out fliers to passers by at the corner of 19th and Holloway avenues.
“Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Sheila Tully, a lecturer in the anthropology department at SF State and the CFA chapter’s vice-president, told the crowd of about 30 students and faculty.
Several students, members of the campus’ Students for Quality Education group, also joined the picket.
“I’m here to support California faculty,” said child and adolescent development major Jocelyn Polanco, 20. “This is about our future, too.”
As negotiations drag on, many faculty members seem to be losing patience with the process, and with the leadership of Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who has come under fire in recent months, most recently for his stance on executive pay increases for the 23 campus presidents.
“This mostly comes from the top, from the Chancellor. He has taken a very hard stance on the negotiations,” said Klasky.
In the Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, the CSU agreed that the 10 percent pay increases that had been sought for the top leaders in the system would not come out of the CSU budget, but rather that each campus’ nonprofit foundations would be asked to come up with the money for any raises.
“Chancellor Reed is saying he’s no longer going to ask taxpayers to pay for these raises and instead has asked the foundations,” Tully told the SF State crowd. “We don’t agree with his priorities.”
For some, the issue of academic freedom is representative of the differences between the two sides.
“They want to focus everyone on the money. It’s not just about money. They could give us the assurance of academic freedom, and that wouldn’t cost them one red cent,” said Kelly.
He also expressed frustration at the approach that the CSU has taken to the negotiations. “If the CSU could come to the table ready, psychologically, to come to an agreement, I think it could be done,” he said.
Yet despite the pickets and protests, faculty say they’re eager for an agreement to be reached.
“We’re not on strike yet, hopefully we won’t be,” said Georgia Gero-Chen, a lecturer in the English department at SF State, at the picket Tuesday.
Kelly echoed her sentiment, and noted, “Protest is not the first impulse of people, it’s the last choice of people.”
Following the breakdown in talks, negotiations will continue through the fact-finding process. Both sides have repeatedly said that they are determined to reach an agreement for the sake of students.
“Quality education for students is really the goal here,” Fallis said.