Faculty at Cal State to strike next week in a series of one-day actions

Faculty members at California State University are gearing up to go on strike for one day next week due to stalled labor negotiations.

The series of one-day rolling strikes will commence on Monday at Cal Poly Pomona, followed by San Francisco State on Tuesday, Cal State LA on Wednesday, and Sacramento State on Thursday. Some faculty members from other campuses are expected to join in solidarity and abstain from teaching on those days.

The biggest point of disagreement between the 23-campus Cal State system and the California Faculty Association (CFA), which represents around 29,000 professors and lecturers, is salary. The faculty union is demanding a 12% general salary increase for this year and has not specified the size of future raises. On the other hand, the university system is proposing a total increase of 15% over three years, which includes the current year.

“A lot of what we’ve been offered by management is dependent on the state budget,” said Kate Ozment, an English professor at Cal Poly Pomona who plans to participate in the strike. “That doesn’t work for faculty who have to pay bills right now.”

Many faculty members are burdened with student loan debt and are struggling to support their families or start new ones, Ozment explained.

“So many of us chose to work for the CSU specifically because we believed in the mission and we believe in the student body,” Ozment added. “The CSU talks a really big game about recruiting first-generation faculty and underrepresented faculty, but the reality is those populations are less likely to have generational wealth to fall back on, and they’re way less likely to have had good jobs that helped them save before they went to graduate school.”

However, CSU officials argue that the university system cannot afford to offer more than a 5% annual increase to the faculty group.

“We recognize the need to increase compensation, and we are committed to doing so. But our resources are limited, and our financial commitments must be fiscally sustainable,” said Leora Freedman, CSU’s vice chancellor for human resources. “CSU is prepared to return to bargaining with CFA at any time.”

CSU officials pointed out that they have already successfully negotiated 5% annual increases with four other labor unions. However, negotiations have reached a stalemate with Teamsters Local 2010, which represents 1,100 of CSU’s skilled trades workers. The Teamsters have also announced their intention to join the faculty in the strike.

In August, the faculty union and CSU entered a state labor mediation process. A fact-finding report, written by a third-party labor negotiator, was released by both sides on Friday. The report recommended a 7% general increase in faculty salaries for one year, but acknowledged that this would still be below the rate of inflation.

In an email to its members, the faculty association expressed appreciation for the fact-finding report but deemed the proposed 7% increase insufficient to address the loss in purchasing power.

The fact-finding report also highlighted the significant divergence in views between the union and the university system on the financial situation. While the faculty union and some student groups believe that the university system can tap into its reserves to cover faculty salaries, CSU maintains that the reserves are designated for one-time emergencies and cannot be used for salary increases.

The ongoing wage dispute coincides with CSU granting salary increases to campus presidents and hiring a new system chancellor with an almost $800,000 base salary, despite facing a budget deficit.

Regarding the one-day strikes, Ozment clarified at the beginning of the semester that she informed her students about the potential disruption in their classes through her syllabus.

“Being a teacher is about transparency and consistency, so I felt that if I told them from the beginning about a possible disruption they would be emotionally and intellectually prepared for it,” she said. “My students have been really upset when they learn how many of their faculty are not paid a living wage, especially how many classes are taught by lecturers who can’t afford rent or are constantly driving from campus to campus in order to put food on the table.”

Although the strike will affect only one day of classes, Ozment said she received some concerns from students about the impact on grading or their ability to graduate on time.

“I told them the same thing that I always tell them, which is: ‘I’ve got your back,'” she assured. “There’s going to be a disruption. That’s the nature of the thing I have to disrupt, but I’m disrupting management. I’m not trying to disrupt (students). I encouraged them to be a part of it because the better the disruption, the quicker this is over and the quicker they get the education they deserve.”

The chancellor’s office has also reached out to students, providing them with information about the strikes and encouraging them to discuss the impact on their courses and grades with their faculty members. Furthermore, not all faculty members are expected to participate in the strike, according to Freedman.

“We need to be responsible and protect the university and our students and our operations,” Freedman stated. “At the same time, we also need to pay our employees fairly and competitively. We are in a very tough situation. I wish we had more money. I wish we had more money to use and to make different choices, but we’re very limited.”

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