Contract negotiations are scheduled to continue in the ongoing battle between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education system and the teachers union, APSCUF. A strike authorization is already in place and that means a work stoppage could come at any time.
Right now, things are moving along like normal with some schools set to begin the spring semester next week. However, this could become an issue if the union moves forward with the strike. The negotiations have been ongoing for over 18 months and with a strike authorization in place, the 14 schools and 115,000 students must be aware that a work stoppage is possible.
“We had turnout of just over 86 percent, which we’re really excited about. And 95 percent of those were ‘yes’ votes,” said Lauren Gutshall of APSCUF back in November after the union authorized the strike.
The two sides are discussing several issues including pay and compensation but healthcare costs are at the top of the list.
“What we’re looking to do is we need to achieve some long-term cost savings for the benefit of our students. Our students currently pay about 75 percent of the cost of attending our universities,” said Kenn Marshall of PASSHE back in November after the union authorized a strike.
The last bargaining session last week produced some positive progress according to the state system, however still no deal has been reached. The nearly 5,000 teachers represented by the APSCUF have been working without a contract since June of 2011.
After the last round of negotiations last week, the state system urged cooler heads to prevail saying in a statement, “The simple fact is that we must resolve these issues quickly and fairly so that we can get back to focusing on how best to continuously enhance the quality of our universities` academic programs as well as the educational experience of our students,” wrote Gary Dent, PASSHE Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Labor Relations.
If the union were to strike, the school system says it would try to remain open. The teachers have the right to cross the picket line to continue teaching but that is unlikely. With 95 percent of members voting in favor the strike authorization, it’s likely the union will remain unified through the process.
The next step towards a possible strike would be relatively simple. A representative from each university would have to vote in favor of the strike and it could begin. Even though the union has authorized a strike three times in the past, it has never moved forward to that point.