The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has rejected a call for binding arbitration from the union representing 5,500 faculty members at the 14 state-owned universities.
"We have been able to achieve through normal negotiations over the last 15 months contracts with virtually all of our other unions," said PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall. "We believe this can be resolved at the bargaining table, and we believe that's where it should be resolved."
The contract between the state system and the union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) expired June 30, 2011.
"I'm not totally surprised but I'm disappointed," said APSCUF President Steve Hicks to the state system's rejection of binding arbitration.
Marshall said the PASSHE board of governors and chancellor are responsible for the system's fiduciary duties and don't believe it would be proper to delegate those duties to a third party, an arbitrator, who would have virtually no responsibility for the outcome of his or her decision.
One of the major stumbling blocks is health care benefits. "We're not asking faculty or any other employee covered by that plan to pay more, the premiums would remain the same," Marshall said. "They would pay 15% of the total of the premium if they participate in a wellness program, 25% if they don't. We are suggesting changes to co-pays."
But union leader Hicks says PASSHE wants to cost shift the increases onto faculty members. "We think there are ways to seek adjustments to how they work their contract with their insurer to save significant money."
State System spokesman Kenn Marshall says negotiations are difficult and this one is particularly so because of this year's 18% cut in state funding for the 14 universities. Marshall also notes that virtually every new teacher's union contract reached in recent years has been done after the old one had expired. "We want a settlement that is fair to everyone--fair to our faculty, especially fair to our [115,000] students and their families," Marshall said.
APSCUF President Steve Hicks said the union's legislative assembly will meet Saturday in State College to discuss the next step.
"The expectation is they will want us to go forward with a strike authorization vote of our membership."
Faculty members have never struck the 14 schools.
Meantime, PASSHE announced today the system had reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract with the union that represents 600 admissions, financial aid, residence life and other student support services officers.