The president of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's faculty union has announced October 19 to be the official date that teachers will strike if a contract agreement has not been reached. The union has also filed an unfair labor practices charge, arguing that negotiators for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has negotiated in bad faith.
A strike date of October 19 would affect more than 100,000 university system students just as the fall semester's mid-term approaches.
"With the looming possibility of a strike on the rise, there's a lot of concerned students," said Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Government Association President Brian Swatt. "There are a lot of questions but no answers because there's never been a strike. We obviously want talks to keep going on. No one wants a strike."
Both sides have agreed to meet again in an effort to come to an agreement. However, the announcement served as a reminder of the discussions that have occurred over the past 15 months as the labor dispute continued. Since June 30, 2015, close to 5,500 faculty members and coaches have continued to work without a contract.
While Ken Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said that faculty members are willing to meet "night and day" in order to avoid a strike, he added that if an agreement had not been reached by October 19, teachers will be left with no other option.
Spokesman Kenn Marshall said that state system administrators were hoping to reduce costs across the state by $70 million. He added that if teachers strike, it could have dire consequences for the most cash-strapped schools, reports Adam Farence for The Times Herald.
Marshall went on to say that in the event of a strike, universities could lose enrollment. He added that some schools may not be able to recover from that, writes Debra Edrley for TribLive.
In addition, a request made by state system representatives for fact finding was recently denied by the Pennsylvania Labor Board. No response has been made by system officials concerning a union request for binding arbitration.
Bargaining issues began to surface after an extended negotiation session that lasted for several days. Mash claimed that state system officials had taken back previously agreed upon statements and had not responded to health care concessions that were brought up by the union.
Mash went on to say that although the state system offered $159 million in collective raises over the course of the contract, that did not make up for givebacks in other areas that would negate any gains.
Meanwhile, state system officials say they would like the union to use the same health care plan currently in use by other university employees.
The union has opposed a number of other proposals, including layoffs that would eliminate tenured faculty, as well as an increased use of part-time faculty members and allowing graduate students to teach stand-alone classes.
"Under no circumstances are the proposals the state system has on the table in the best interests of students," Mash said. "We are where we are because my colleagues feel so strongly about protecting the quality of our universities and sticking up for quality for our students."