Update: PASSHE and faculty union come to an agreement

University faculty contract negotiations continued this past weekend, and both parties came to an agreement.

Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) has been working for 19 months without a contract.

After a cancelled meeting in December and little progress at a meeting on Jan. 19, members of the APSCUF and Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) negotiators met in Harrisburg Feb. 1, to work out their differences in terms of a contract.

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The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and APSCUF have agreed to the framework for a new contract with the approximately 5,500 faculty at the 14 state-owned universities.

According to the APSCUF blog, a framework agreement for a contract was reached after two days of negotiations which began on Friday and ended Sunday morning.

According to the blog, the framework largely mirrors the contracts that Governor Tom Corbett settled with the other state unions. Because it is a framework agreement, ASCUF will not release a public statement until after each chapter president votes on it. The voting will be finished by Monday night.

If the leaders of APSCUF vote for the agreement, the next step will be a full membership vote. According to an email sent out by Dr. Kevin Mahoney of Kutztown University, that vote would take place after the contract is written out into specific language.

Kenn Marshall, Media Relations Manager of PASSHE, said that he believes most of the fight is still about healthcare and there are some parts about distance education that still need to be finalized.

“Teachers received a stipend for creating online courses,” Marshall said. “That went into the contract in 1999, but we’ve been phasing that out because they don’t get a stipend for creating traditional courses.”

However, according to Dr. Kevin Mahoney, communications chair for the Kutztown University chapter of APSCUF, the faculty still deserves a stipend to create online courses.

“None of us were hired to create an online course,” said Mahoney, an English professor at KU. “The state looks at schools like Harvard who are offering online courses with a large number of students and think that the future of education is heading in that direction.”

Mahoney stated that he would be willing to head in that direction if PASSHE would fund that type of program properly.

“Harvard and the other schools that do, that pay for the technology, compensate the teachers and have a ton of graduate students who are helping with the online course. I’m having a hard time loading a Youtube video in the class room.”

Kutztown University’s position is that they just hope that the two sides can work out an agreement.

“We’ve been to the eleventh hour before,” Director of University Relations Matthew Santos said last week.

He believed that in the past they have come much closer to striking, but this time around is certainly the longest period of time where PASSHE and APSCUF have not come to an agreement.

“There have been times before where a deadline would be set and you would go to bed to find out what happened when you woke up,” Santos said.

Should any labor action be taken, Kutztown University has a contingency plan but has not gone public with that plan yet.

“Our hope is that we won’t need to enact the plan and that the two sides come to some kind of consensus,” Santos said.

Another aspect of the negotiations is a new healthcare plan that the system wants to implement.

PASSHE wants to take away the current system of retiree health care and replace it with a voucher system for new hires.

“Rather than retiring and keeping your healthcare, PASSHE would have you retire with a voucher that is worth the number of years that you have worked for,” Dr. Paul Quinn, President of the Kutztown University Chapter said last week on the Rick Smith Show.

In November APSCUF voted in favor of a strike authorization, which means that should negotiators feel that no progress is being made, they can call for a vote to strike. The vote to strike requires a super majority of 10 out of 14 of the APSCUF chapter heads to vote for a strike before any kind of labor action is taken.

According to Dr. Dan Spiegel, the spokesperson for the Kutztown University chapter APSCUF, PASSHE was supposed to send APSCUF a new proposal before the meeting on Friday.

Many of the issues that were brought up besides health care concerned temporary faculty which included a 30 percent cut in their salary and a reduction on the number of days they had to be notified before being fired or laid off.

According to an email sent to media outlets by Speigel, APSCUF has agreed to increases in co-pay for office visits and prescriptions and there is some compromise in the works.

Should PASSHE and APSCUF come to an agreement, their contract would last for four years and terminate June 30, 2015. The four years began in 2011 when the contract expired.

“Though, because we’ve been in negotiations for such a long time, they may start the contract from the beginning of this academic year,” said Mahoney.

To show their discontent, 500 members of APSCUF went to Harrisburg recently and walked outside of the PASSHE building to protest.

“I wasn’t expecting to see that many people,” Mahoney said. “What I saw were people who weren’t there just because they had to be, but they were there because they genuinely felt disrespected.”

The conference call between the 14 members of the negotiations committee will take place at 5 p.m. today.

Updates will be made as they become available.

Dan Clark is an intern for The Kutztown Area Patriot. Contact him at 610-683-7343 ext. 0. Or email editor Lisa Mitchell at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com.