Cal State Faculty Votes to Strike

By Seth Sandronsky

Union members in the 23-campus California State University voted April 16 to April 27 whether to strike after 19 months of fruitless bargaining over contracts for 2010-11, and 2012-12, with CSU management.

The Board of Directors of the California Faculty Association in late February authorized a membership vote to approve or reject “a series of two-day rolling strikes on campuses should mediation and fact-finding fail to yield a fair settlement” with CSU management. Such a labor action after a successful vote (a majority of 50% plus one) has never happened in the CSU system.

CFA members have been working without a contract since June 30, 2010. The union represents a total of 24,000 CSU employees: coaches, counselors, librarians and professors. The CFA strike vote nears against the rising tide of public protests against state budget cuts to schools, K-12 and higher education, across the US.

Daniel Wilson, 24, from Cartersville, Georgia, is a graduate student in social work at Sacramento State.

Asked for his support or lack of it for the union’s strike vote in mid-April, and why, he came down on the CFA’s side.

“I approve of and encourage CSU faculty to strike,” Wilson said.

“For too long, the CSU, and many other institutes of public higher education have been treated as a business, where the monetization of education takes precedence over the intrinsic value of education.”

With 427,000 CSU students currently enrolled, the system’s funding shortfall is recently a result of falling state tax revenue since the crash of the real estate market. “State support for the CSU has been cut by almost $1 billion or 33 percent over the past four years, with student tuition increases covering only about half of the lost revenue,” said Claudia Keith and Mike Uhlenkamp of CSU public affairs in a statement.

Face-to-face dialogue between rank-and-file membership about what is at stake for public higher education was a high priority before the April strike vote, said Kevin Wehr, CFA chapter president, bargaining team member and sociology professor at Sacramento State. According to him, proposed CSU management takeaways compromise teaching and learning system-wide.

For example, CSU is pushing to move more classes and sometimes entire programs into its for-profit, Extended Education/Continuing Education arm, Wehr said. There, students pay higher prices compared with costs in the traditional non-profit semester system.

In addition, the CSU proposes to leave CFA members’ pay where it is or 2010-11 and 2011-12 and possibly re-open benefits talks in the future. With deeds and words against public workers’ pensions growing, a re-opening on benefits presents a real potential for CSU takeaways, according to Wehr.

Across the bargaining table from the CFA, C. Richard Barnes and Associates, LLC, represent the CSU. The firm’s lead negotiator receives $4,300 per day after a recent raise, said Wehr. “That should surprise nobody as to why we have been in negotiations for 19 months with nothing to show for it,” he said. Uhlenkamp, CSU spokesman, declined to comment on the allegation that Barnes’ pay is a factor in the lengthy contract talks.

The CFA announced the strike vote results at the end of April (after this went to press). Lillian Taiz, CFA president and a professor of history at CSU Los Angeles, asked to comment on the legality of public employees going on strike, said: “According to the law, after the legal bargaining process, which includes mediation and then fact finding, both parties have legal options. The Chancellor can impose terms and conditions of work on us and we would have the legal right to go on strike.”

CFA’s rank-and-file voted for a one-day labor action last Nov. 17 at CSU East Bay and CSU Dominguez Hills in protest of unpaid raises in union members’ 2008-09 and 2009-10 contracts. CSU management did not budge in contract talks after that one-day strike, Wehr said.

In a November 2011 CFA fact sheet, the union said over the past 13 years in inflation-adjusted dollars, CSU campus presidents’ average weekly salaries climbed 23%. Meanwhile average student fees and tuition soared 106%, as the average weekly salary for full-time CSU faculty dropped 10% from 1998 to 2008. “Our motto is ‘We don’t want to strike for a fair contract but we will because there is no other choice to maintain the quality of public higher education in California,’” Wehr said.

Seth Sandronsky lives in Sacramento. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2012

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2012 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652