Sonoma State teachers gathered outside Stevenson Hall on Monday to cast their votes on whether or not to authorize a strike in response to the recent breakdown of contract negotiations with the university. Contract talks have been going on for nearly two years.
Members of the California Faculty Association, which represents educators — from professors to librarians and school counselors — at the 23 CSU campuses, will vote on whether to grant their board of directors the authority to call a strike if the bargaining process fails. The vote will be carried out from today through April 27.
The teacher's union is asking for a one percent pay increase, Business Week is reporting, as well to halt a proposal to make more faculty positions temporary and short term. If approved, union organizers said the strike could delay the beginning of the fall 2013 term.
As it is, lecturers who have taught in the same department for six years and receive good evaluations can be offered a three-year contract by their department, according to strike organizers.
However, officials said in a statement that "the chancellor’s proposal would make the offer of multi-year contracts solely at the discretion of top executives on each campus. This change would mean a return to the exploitative practice of firing experienced teachers to hire new ones at lower pay and little or no benefits."
“A three-year contract provides minimal security for our faculty who work on temporary contracts and helps students by providing a greater chance that their faculty will be there to see them through to graduation” said Andy Merrifield chair of the faculty union’s bargaining team and a professor at Sonoma State University.
The next step in the bargaining process involves a neutral third party who will be brought in to examine the dispute and try to help the two sides reach a settlement, according to the union.
Union officials are marking the start of the vote today with actions at several CSU campuses, including Sonoma State University. Throughout the state, $970 million has been slashed since 2008, according to university officials.
Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the CSU chancellor's office, said,
"We are still committed to the negotiation process."
Uhlenkamp said it would be "premature to talk about a potential strike."
"The strike vote comes during a turbulent time for CSU, which has lost $970 million in state funding since 2008," Business Times reported this morning. At Sonoma State, tuition has skyrocketed, class sizes are ballooning, the amount of classes offered continue to be slashed, and admissions has been limited for 2013.
Meanwhile, "top executives continue to get big raises, free houses and huge car allowances," union organizers said.
"We were hoping that yet another strong message of support from our faculty for a fair contract will convince the chancellor’s office to sit back down at the table and negotiate with us," Merrifield said.
Other Sonoma State professors on campus Monday weighed in.
"We’re looking for a better investment, fewer managers, less bloat in Long Beach and setting forth the right priorities," said Professor David McCuan. "The union and the faculty are very aware of the situation the state of California is in and the situation the current budget is in."
Judith Abbott, a faculty member in Sonoma State's history department, said she voted in favor of the strike Monday.
“I certainly voted yes," she said. "What the people in the Chancellor’s office are trying to do is outrageous. They spent $6.5 million on labor consultants, meaning people will break up unions, instead of using the money for classes."
-Bay City News contributed to this report.