Faculty strike could be looming for state-owned universities

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The schools will open in the next few weeks.

Students, all 107,000 of them at the 14 state-owned universities including Shippensburg and Millersville in the Midstate, will begin classes as scheduled.

Finishing the first semester of the new school year, however, could be a challenge.

“We are prepared to do what we must do to stand up for our students and ourselves,” said Dr. Kenneth Mash, president of APSCUF, the union representing 5,500 faculty and coaches. “That means we may go on strike.”

The faculty and coaches have been working without a contract since June 2015 when the old agreement expired.

Mash says negotiations have bogged down and strike authorization is on the table. On Aug. 25, union leadership will decide whether or not to let rank-and-file members vote for a strike.

“My union has never been on strike before, never has, but I’ve told them this is different. This is very serious now because they don’t seem serious about negotiating,” Mash said.

But the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education insists it’s the faculty union that doesn’t understand the seriousness of its funding shortage.

PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall said it’s near crisis. He says enrollment across the board has decreased each of the past five years. State funding, though up the past two years, has been stagnant for more than a decade.

“Our funding level from the state is about where it was in 1999,” Marshall said. “We’re talking 17 years ago. That’s not adjusted for inflation, that’s actual dollars.”

Marshall says even with a 2.75 percent hike in tuition, the system is still swimming in red ink. It is increasingly difficult to keep tuition as low as possible while maintaining high quality.

Marshall says the main sticking point is health care. He says the union refuses to pay three percent more per pay period for their health care premiums. The union counters that’s only part of the story. Mash says PASSHE is trying to change numerous terms of their contract. Bottom line, he says, is that some would be working more and getting less.

Those are traditional contract squabbles. The battle lines are drawn. Heels are dug in. It doesn’t sound good.

“They’re walking out on students,” Marshall said of the strike threat. “They’re not walking out on us. It doesn’t hurt us. It would be devastating to the students.”

Students like Lebanon County’s Kaitlyn Mulligan, who’s about to being her junior year at Clarion University.

“I definitely expect to go to class and have a professor be there, she said. “So, if they’re not going to be there, that kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Kaitlyn doesn’t need to freak out just yet. There are more negotiations scheduled before the Aug. 25 decision on whether to allow union members to vote on a strike.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC27 News App and the ABC27 Weather App for your phone and tablet.

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