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APSCUF President: Slippery Rock University union members warned to strike

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Six days prior to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union members went on strike, employees at Slippery Rock University were sent a dire warning to strike or else. Ben Shaevitz, a professor of Physics at the University, and Slippery Rock University president of APSCUF, emailed APSCUF union members to tell them not to go back to work during the pending strike.

Shaevitz told members that by “crossing the picket line,” APSCUF members would be conceding to Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education proposals. Among items the State System presented to APSCUF,  included a pay increase for all regular and temporary faculty; healthcare package identical to that provided to other State System employees; and expanded student internship opportunities. The strike began Wednesday, Oct. 19.

“At 11:35 p.m., we made a last attempt to negotiate through back channels,” Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash said in a statement. “We waited until 5 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phones will be on, should the State System decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students. They’ll know where to find me at 5:30 a.m. I’ll be outside the chancellor’s office at the Dixon Center on the picket line.”

The strike will end when negotiators reach a contract, APSCUF reported. The faculty contract expired June 30, 2015, and negotiations have been ongoing since late 2014.

The Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public employee union leaders, filed an unfair labor practice charge last year on behalf of a Slippery Rock University professor alleging that every year since 1997, APSCUF has overcharged membership dues, and then it holds a “Dues Rebate Campaign” known as “March Madness,” asking members to donate their “overpaid” dues to the union’s political action committee. The union keeps members’ money for general use if they don’t respond.

According to the Fairness Center, the collection of union dues nets up to $130,000 annually, which includes up to $66,000 in 2014 for APSCUF’s political action committee. This allows the union, which represents faculty in Pa. State System of Higher Education, to help elect the very officials with whom they are now negotiating.

The Fairness Center obtained a copy of an email Shaevitz sent to Slippery Rock employees, warning them that crossing the picket line would be a betrayal that could lead to “being publicly identified as a ‘Scab’ (strikebreaker) forever”:

This is probably the last EMAIL you will receive from me using the SRU addresses.  We begin using off-campus address today.

Dear Colleagues but especially to those who are unsure if they will work during the strike,

Personally I hate being told what to do by anyone – be they presidents of universities or unions.  But at the risk of being too direct, I want to help you in your decision-making if you are thinking about working during the strike, also known as “crossing the picket lines.”

IF YOU CROSS THE PICKET LINE you will be effectively saying to your colleagues on the line that you disrespect the sacrifice they are making in terms of making a stand and going without pay and benefits.  You would be effectively prolonging the strike by continuing to work so the administration can maintain a fig leaf of “business as usual.”  By your actions you are saying that you choose to continue to enjoy pay and benefits hard-fought by colleagues over the decades, but will not do your part NOW to take a stand to defend those benefits.   You are effectively saying to the SSHE that their proposals are OK with you to:

*   Cut pay of our adjunct faculty (25% of our colleagues)

*   Give up the concept of shared governance

*   Be reassigned any time as needed by administration

*   Have reduced say in tenure, sabbatical and promotion decisions

*   Work for little or no net pay increase

If you decide to work during the strike, i.e., cross the picket line, you will be faced with:

*   Colleagues who will try to convince you not to cross the line

*   Peer rejection

*   Being publicly identified as a “Scab” (strikebreaker) forever

What makes this university a great place to work is our colleagues.  We look out for each other, we respect each other, we defer to each other, we support each other, and we value each other.  This collegial atmosphere is a two-edged sword.  If one betrays his or her colleagues, the reaction could be negative.  Strikes are unpleasant – relationships can be harmed long-term.  If we have a brief strike, do you want to be branded by your colleagues forever as one of the few who crossed the picket line?  I don’t recommend it.

Sorry for the negative tone of this message, but I want it to be clear to faculty who are considering working during the strike that they will potentially face negative judgement by colleagues.  If we are solid and unified, a strike will be brief.  Plan to honor the picket lines and stand with us.

In solidarity,