HARRISBURG — The union representing thousands of professors and coaches at Pennsylvania’s 14 State System of Higher Education universities, including Slippery Rock University, authorized a strike on Friday.
The vote does not implement a strike, but it allows negotiators for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties to call a strike on short notice.
The union represents more than 6,000 faculty, including about 475 at SRU.
Patrick Burkhart, president of SRU’s APSCUF chapter, has said a poor contract could cause good professors to leave state universities.
“First and foremost, the faculty want to teach. The recent patterns in negotiation have been such that it has taken us getting to the brink of a job action for negotiations to substantially progress,” he said Friday.
“I am hopeful that the pattern will continue, and we will see legitimate progress toward resolution.”
Voting for the authorization occurred last week by union employees at the universities. The state negotiations committee met Friday to count ballots and announce the total vote.
More than 86 percent of the APSCUF membership cast ballots and 95 percent of the faculty who voted supported the strike authorization.
“The overwhelming support for our negotiations committee and our negotiations team sends a strong message to the state system,” said Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF, in a statement.
“We will continue to do everything we can to reach an agreement. A strike is truly a last resort.”
APSCUF’s contract expired June 30, 2011.
APSCUF and the state system cannot agree on issues such as health care costs and the use of temporary faculty. The union offered binding arbitration to settle the dispute in September, and the system rejected that.
The negotiations committee plan to meet within 10 days to discuss the implications of the strike authorization vote and a potential strike date.
However, another bargaining session is set for Dec. 11.
On Thursday, Chancellor John Cavanaugh of the state system disputed the contention that faculty are being asked for more concessions than other unionized employees. Negotiators have reached agreements, or tentative agreements, with the system’s other six bargaining units, he noted.
“Every contract that we’ve settled so far has changes in work rules and other aspects that gave us significant cost savings,” Cavanaugh said.
There has never been a faculty strike at state system schools.