Last-minute Deal Averts Cal State Faculty Strike

Updated Apr 24, 2016

The California State University (CSU) system and the California Faculty Association, the union representing 23,000 instructors, librarians, counselors and coaches, decided it was better to agree than make history.

Nowhere has there ever been a faculty strike affecting 460,000 students across 23 campuses in a statewide system in the nation.

But a strike set to last from April 13 to April 19 was averted when both sides announced a deal pending approval by union members and the CSU Board of Trustees.

Highlights of the tentative agreement released Friday include:

  • A 5 percent general salary increase on June 30, 2016 for all faculty on active pay status or on leave
  • A 2 percent general salary increase on July 1, 2016 for all faculty on active pay status or leave
  • A 3.5 percent general salary increase on July 1, 2017 for all faculty on active pay status or leave
  • A 2.65 percent service salary increase (step increase) during fiscal year 2017-18 for eligible faculty

It’s a 10.5 percent raise over time. Currently, 60 percent of instructors are temporary lecturers making an average of $28,000 a year. Full-time, tenured professors earn an average of $85,000 a year.

The state had held steady to just a 2.5 percent raise, until the Public Employees Relations Board and a neutral arbitrator determined that 5 percent would be more appropriate. And then more money was found.

The tentative deal addressed the No. 1 concern of union members.

“Our low salary: among California’s three-tier system in higher education, CSU faculty have the lowest salaries,” said Dr. James Sobredo, an associate professor in the Asian American Studies Program in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Cal State Sacramento. “Our salaries are lower than the faculty at the community colleges and the UC system.”

But Sobredo said that, as much as he appreciated the deal, it still didn’t bring Cal State University faculty parity with the University of California faculty.

“Even if we got a 50 percent pay raise [brings our salary up to $127,000], we still will not be matching UC faculty salaries [$130,000],” Sobredo told Diverse. “Our salary disparity is that bad. What is highly problematic is, aside from having mostly teaching responsibilities, CSU faculty are now also expected to publish to get tenure and promotion, and, with our teaching load [we generally do not have teaching assistants for our overloaded classes], it borders on ‘unethical’ as one administrator friend [now retired] once said.”

Sobredo, however, has been gratified that students expressed their willingness to stand on the picket lines with them.

And he is happy the union was willing to take a hard stand.

“I have always been a strong labor union supporter and this victory — the CSU gave in to our demands and gave us the 5 percent raise and other terms we had asked — and this experience solidified, once again, my belief in labor unions,” Sobredo said in an extended interview. “Just ask yourself: why do firefighters, police officers, correction officers and nurses have such high salaries? They all belong to very powerful labor unions. Of course, our upcoming strike just also coincided with the timing of my class lectures on the 1965 Delano Grape Strike by Filipino farmworkers, so this was a wonderful teaching opportunity to connect the past with the present.

“In sum, the rich in America do not give workers raises because of their enlightened benevolence toward workers. In general, we gain our salary increases and our work benefits because we fought for it through our unions and collective bargaining. I do understand that there are many disenfranchised workers, and it is one reason why the political narrative is being disrupted in both the Republican and Democratic parties, but blaming labor unions and ‘liberals’ — which most professors are — for society’s economic problems misses the point completely.”

Sobredo said this was a turning point for himself and other faculty members.

“We knew we were not going to be rich from university teaching, but at least give us a decent salary compensation,” he said. “We are fed up with our workload constantly increasing; we are fed up with many years of salary freezes and a 10 percent furlough; and frankly we are in a fighting mood. But, overall, in terms of the general American society, I don’t know if it indicates a major turning point — there are still many Americans who see labor unions in a negative light.

“However, there is also hope and grounds for optimism. Our college students know and are educated about labor issues, stagnating salaries for civil servants, the erosion of the middle class and increasing class inequality, while, at the same time, corporations and the 1 percent are raking in a larger share of the economic pie. The timing of our scheduled strike also coincided with the release of the Panama Papers: 2.6 terabytes of confidential data indicating that rich people, corporations and powerful politicians hide trillions of dollars in off-shore secret accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. And these are the same people who cry unfair taxes on the rich and corporations! Imagine that: the working class are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, while the rich and corporations hide trillions in offshore secret accounts and do not pay their fair share of taxes.”

If the union members approve the deal, it goes before the CSU Board of Trustees for approval in May.

 

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes on race, culture and politics at www.aaldef.org/blog.