Two years of unresolved issues. Two different stories. One contract. One looming hope.
Stakes, passions and frustrations run high as the California State University system and the California Faculty Association (CFA) struggle to agree on a contract.
Following two years of negotiations, union and university teams will resume bargaining Thursday after recent fallout left both sides doubtful of a resolution.
Miscommunication and conflicting stories surrounded recent negotiations.
He said, she said
The CFA bargaining team walked out May 5, ending the latest 3-day round of talks.
“Frankly, we’re not quite sure why they walked out,” CSU Media Relations Manager Erik Fallis said.
Brian Ferguson, the CFA communications specialist, calls the walk-out a “mischaracterization.”
“Their proposals weren’t getting us any place, and they were rejecting out of hand many of the proposals we were putting forward.”
The CFA team walked out with one issue left on the table, according to Fallis.
A teacher’s salary includes time spent working for the union, possibly taking away from time spent on teaching tasks. The CSU team is pushing to revoke this right, while the union wants to maintain the provision.
Instead, Ferguson blames disagreement over quality of education issues for the fallout, including class size, the employment status of temporary employees, protections for lecturer faculty, power to decide curriculum and teacher salary and benefits.
“There are about 40 issues in our contract, and we’ve only come to agreement on about 17 of them,” Ferguson said.
The CFA’s proposed 1 percent pay increase for faculty is “absolutely an issue that is still up for debate,” according to Ferguson.
“Pay issues are actually resolved,” said Fallis. “We will maintain the status quo.”
At this point, both sides seemed tired and slightly defeated.
“We’re hopeful, but not optimistic that it can be resolved,” said Ferguson. “There are some very real disagreements between the two sides.”
“We hoped they would have continued to do the work that needs to be done in order to resolve bargaining,” said Fallis.
Entrenched in a clash of fundamentals, these two teams may not find resolution in bargaining.
Possibility of Strike
The entire negotiation process is governed by state law, and if the legal process fails, strike is a possibility.
If bargaining doesn’t produce a settlement, the two teams move on to fact-finding.
During fact-finding, a neutral third party assesses each team’s proposal and provides a recommendation on how to continue.
Next, both teams enter a 10-day quiet period during which neither can speak publicly about their decisions. It is an uninterrupted time of reflection.
If the two teams do not reach an agreement after the quiet period, both have the legal right to take certain actions.
Chancellor Reed can impose a contract.
The union can strike.
According to a recent CFA press release, “95% of Faculty on all 23 California State University campuses voted to approve rolling two-day strikes if the CSU Chancellor refuses to settle a fair contract and unilaterally imposes his demands.”
However, this statistic is misleading for three reasons.
First, it was not actually a vote to strike. The union cannot legally strike until after the entire process is completed.
Instead, the vote enabled CFA leadership to authorize a strike if the legal process fails.
Second, roughly half of all CSU faculty are members of the union and eligible to vote.
Third, of that half, 70 percent voted.
Though 95 percent of voting CFA members approved a strike, only about 35 percent of all CSU faculty pledged their approval.
Neither side wants to see that ending for this story.
“Faculty don’t want to go on strike,” said Ferguson.
“We need them to come back to the table,” said Fallis.
However, the CFA is prepared with a strike in their back pocket and student support according to Ferguson.
Student and union interests often overlap, and many of the contract issues affect students.
Though tuition cannot be argued in these negotiations, debates over class size are on the table.
Lowering class size will lessen the teacher’s workload and enhance the quality of education, while increasing class will provide more students with classes at less cost to the school.
Also, debates over lecturer and temporary faculty positions will affect the number and discipline of courses offered next year.
Piggybacking on the union’s demands, students have taken drastic measures to ensure their voices are also heard.
Last week students pledged a hunger strike, surviving on juice, until the administration agrees to a five-year freeze on tuition and a rollback of administration salaries to 1999 levels.
With such high student involvement and the strike looming, the union is confident that students will continue their support, said Ferguson.
However, the interest of students would be best served if the union and Chancellor’s office could reach an agreement.
As the end encroaches upon these frigid negotiations, Ferguson senses a “thawing in their relationship.”
Hopes run high for negotiations to warm up on Thursday and continue through the weekend.