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Cal State faculty union members vote to authorize walkout

California Faculty Association
The union representing California State University faculty announced Wednesday its members have voted to authorize a two-day strike should negotiations over salary, class sizes and other issues continue to stall.

The vote could result in two-day rolling strikes at the 23 campuses, most likely beginning in the fall, according to the California Faculty Assn.

The union represents 23,000 Cal State professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches in the public university system. About 53% of the total faculty are union members.

Union officials said that 70% of the group’s 12,501 members participated in the vote. Of those, 95% voted to approve the plans.

The action does not mean a strike will be called, but instead gives the union authority to do so if negotiations with Chancellor Charles Reed fail to come to an agreement.

The vote comes as Cal State has suffered severe cuts in state funding -- $750 million this fiscal year, with the potential for an additional $200-million reduction next year if voters fail to approve a tax initiative backed by the governor on the November ballot.

The Cal State system has raised tuition, offered fewer courses and turned away thousands of students as a result of budget cuts.

The union, which said the faculty haven't received raises since 2007, is asking for 1% pay increases for each year of the new contract, more control over class sizes and greater stability for faculty with temporary contracts, among other proposals.

“The CSU faculty have run out of patience,”  said President Lillian Taiz, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles. “It’s time to address seriously the issues before us so our faculty can get back to the business of providing quality education to the students of California.”

The union and Reed have failed to reach agreement since the last three-year contract expired in June 2010.

Mediation efforts broke down April 6, but the groups will meet again this week in an effort to resume talks.

If they do not reach an agreement, a neutral fact-finder will be appointed to seek a resolution. If no settlement is reached at the end of that process, the union has legal authority to stage the walkout.

Union leaders said they understand the possible adverse effect a strike can have on students, but contend such an action will bring attention to their struggles as well.

“It’s safe to say that what is going on now in the system is having a more profound effect on our students than losing a day of classes,” Taiz said. “What students should understand is that we are all in this together.”

Cal State officials said the union's demands would cost the system more than $500 million at a time when it cannot afford the additional expenses. They are proposing to maintain current salary levels for 2011-12 with the potential for reopening negotiations for future years if financial conditions improve.

The 400,000-student system was forced to tighten executive compensation policies after the Board of Trustees approved controversial pay increases for several new campus presidents. Next week, the California State University Board of Trustees will consider a new policy  that would freeze state-funded pay for new university presidents, but allow college foundations to foot the bill for pay raises.

The faculty association insists its proposals are modest.

The union staged one-day strikes at two campuses in November over many of the same issues. Those were the first strikes since the union was formed in 1983.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: California Faculty Association member, professor Deborah Haam, helps California State University Long Beach employees vote in April on whether to authorize a strike. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / The Associated Press

 
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