The chairman of the board of Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities and faculty union leaders are accusing each other of being unreasonable in their stalled contract talks. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education points out only one union is holding out on agreeing to cost-saving measures.
Hundreds of faculty members from across the state protested Thursday outside the PASSHE offices while the board of governors heard from both sides at its quarterly meeting. PASSHE Spokesman Kenn Marshall said there are two major issues at play, distance education and health care.
“In the health care area, we are trying to bring our plan, the health care plan that we provide for our employees, in line with the plan the commonwealth provides to almost 80,000 state employees including the governor and his cabinet,” said Marshall.
Ken Mash, vice president and head negotiator for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), said the system is prolonging the 17-month impasse by making unreasonable demands for concessions on health coverage and other issues.
PASSHE Board Chairman Guido Pichini said health benefits for the 6,000 faculty members are more generous than the coverage provided for tens of thousands of other state employees. PASSHE’s Marshall said concessions are necessary to ensure affordable, quality education.
“It has been a very difficult number of years for higher education in general, certainly for us as well,” he said, “our budgets are tight and we have to be ever-mindful of our students for everything we do. Our other unions have agreed to those [cuts] and we’re seeking the same from APSCUF for the benefit of our students.”
The spring semester is set to begin on Monday, and though APSCUF has authorized a strike if necessary, operations are expected to continue as normal. The next negotiation meeting is slated for February 1st.