After nearly a year and a half, contract negotiations between the California Faculty Association and the California State University are at a standstill.
The bargaining teams met in San Francisco on July 24, and began a five-day bargaining marathon that ended abruptly when the CSU representatives walked out.
“Contract bargaining is dead in the water,” said James Ballard, president of the CSUN chapter of the CFA and professor in the sociology department. “The CSU walked away from their responsibility.”
“We made a very generous offer, and are very disappointed that they didn’t accept it,” said Sam Strafaci, CSU assistant vice chancellor of human resources and the leader of the CSU bargaining team.
The issues on the table include salary increases, faculty parking permits and the Faculty Early Retirement Program, according to Ballard.
Faculty are dealing with salary inversion, which is when a new faculty member is hired for more money than an existing faculty member earns, he said. Ballard calls it the “experience penalty.”
“The CSU is penalizing people with the most experience in teaching and working with students,” he said. “I do not begrudge the new faculty their salary, nobody does. But when the salary structure is broken, it does create problems.”
The CFA is concerned that the increasing numbers of lecturers are harming the students.
“If the university won’t commit to them, how can they commit to the university?” Ballard asked. He said lecturers deserve more job security, and students should be able to count on their professors being around from year to year. Also, lecturers are not required to be as active in curriculum development and committee work.
Ballard said that many lecturers have to work for several schools at the same time, which is “a bad formula for students.”
“We’ve been hiring a large number of tenure track faculty,” he said. “We’ve got a greater percent (in the CSU) than elsewhere.”
The CSU comprises about 52 percent lecturers, he said, while at some other universities, lecturers make up between 63 and 65 percent.
“We have many, many lecturers who are outstanding, who bring in practitioner’s expertise and experience,” Strafaci said.
“The notion that lecturers don’t feel committed to the university – we have thousands of lecturers that have three-year contracts, and they keep getting those three-year contracts renewed,” he said. “I categorically reject that notion – that’s simply not the case.”
Faculty parking is another issue being discussed. The CSU wants to raise the parking fees that faculty pay to the same rates that students pay, Ballard said.
“We all have to pay a permit for our parking fees,” Strafaci said. “It helps to relieve the debt from new parking structure construction costs.”
“The CFA argues for less fees, but want the same or even more access,” Strafaci said. “Whenever a new facility comes online, only the higher fee payers should have access.”
“Parking is a benefit, just like health insurance, and it’s normally added on top of faculty salary,” Ballard said.
The bargaining team also has been discussing the FERP program, which allows faculty to step down into partial retirement.
In its current state FERP is a five-year program, but the CSU is seeking changes at the bargaining table.
“The CSU has proposed that the duration of the program would be reduced for those that enter it in the future, that it gradually change from the current five years to three years,” said Strafaci. Initially, the CSU tried to do away with FERP altogether.
“The people who oppose it are the university presidents, because they feel it costs them money,” Ballard said.
Strafaci pointed out that the decrease in duration of FERP would allow new faculty – and thus new ideas – to join the ranks at CSUN.
“It would help to free up academic positions to hire new probationary faculty members,” Strafaci said.
“(The CFA wants) to raise awareness that we’re not just fighting for us, we’re fighting for the students,” Ballard said.
Strafaci disagreed with the assertions that the CSU doesn’t care about faculty or students.
“It’s not about the CSU not wanting to spend their resources,” Strafaci said. “The administration is trying everything they can do to get a new contract and get the money in the pocket of our faculty. We keep our eye on the ball as to who we’re working for – the students.”
Both sides have received authorization to declare an impasse, which is a declaration that negotiations have stalled and a mediator is needed.
“Basically, the parties are acknowledging that an outside perspective may help get this thing resolved,” said Roger Smith, a labor relations specialist with the California Public Employment Relations Board.
Either party may declare, or they may declare jointly. Once the case is filed, PERB “determines whether further mediation would be fruitful,” Smith said. Smith likened the mediation process to marriage counseling.
If the initial mediation is unsuccessful, then the case goes before a fact-finding panel made up of a neutral party and a representative from each party.
“Each side can introduce witnesses or documents that can support their position,” Smith said. The panel then issues an advisory report.
Once the report is issued, either side may oppose the finding. At this point, a lawful strike could begin.
CSUN President Jolene Koester could not be reached for comment.