California State University teachers overwhelmingly authorized two-day rolling strikes at the CSU's 23 campuses should ongoing contract talks fail to reach an agreement. The vote by 95% of faculty to okay strikes only legally enables the walk-outs in the event talks fail.
But the two-week voting period by a 70% turnout of California Faculty Association members was endorsed by 95%, it was announced at California State University, Long Beach Wednesday.
"Nobody wants to go on strike," said Teri Yamada, head of the Long Beach State CFA chapter and an Asian American Studies professor, who is also the faculty advisor for the Cambodian student club. "But two years ago, CFA asked to just keep the contract as is, due to economic strife, just keep the status quo, and what happened at the bargaining table was just takeback after takeback, and it's just taking advantage" of the situation.
The union maintains that they've not only not had a salary increase in years but that tenured professors are being replaced with semester-to-semester part-time teachers who may not know students long enough to write reccomendations critical to their futures.
"On the letters, you are asked specifically, 'how long have you known this student? In what capacity?',Yamada noted.
Overall, the faculty union maintains that CSU Chancellor Charles E. Reed has used very real budget cuts by the state to attempt to break the union and rely increasingly on more extension courses that can be taught by non-professors. They say they are protesting student tuition rises, more crowded classrooms and shortchanging students the ability to be mentored by professors who are being spread too thin.
The CSU has responded consistently over the past six months that contract negotiations are still in progress and strike talk is premature in the process. CSU spokespersons at the Chancellor's Long Beach office stress that crippling state budget cuts to the CSU system by the legislature -$650 million - have forced the CSU leadership to make difficult choices.
But CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith asserted that faculty has received $50 million in salary increases over the past three years - an average of $20 million a year - at which the faculty union scoffs.
"Pay raises over the past two years have been approved, but not paid," said CFA communications director Brian Ferguson. How could the CSU claim the not-small figure of $50 million in salary increases if they didn't happen? "That," Ferguson said, "is a very good question."
Said Keith: "That’s not true. Anyone who has gotten a promotion or an equity increase or all the usual increases that a promotion would carry [has gotten a piece of that money]. You total all that up and you come with about $50 million."
Ferguson and Yamada said equity increases apply to a very small number of faculty and only those who are given equal pay to another hire at a higher salary than existing teachers.
Yamada said that one critical sticking point in contract negotiations involves counselors not receiving retirement benefits and the CSU's wish to change part-time lecturers' employment terms to semester-to-semester.
"We are just not willing to throw lecturers under the bus," said Yamada. The CSU's response has been that draconian budget cuts have forced the board into few choices but reducing costs such as short-term employees who earn less.
There is still a lot of work to be done -by legal requirements - before faculty would strike, both sides note.
``We have said all along that we do not want to strike, but we will if that is what is necessary,'' said CFA President Lillian Taiz, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles.
``Enough of managers using budget cuts as an excuse to destroy the quality of students' education,'' she said.
Union officials said a strike at the 23 CSU campuses would be the largest ``in the history of American higher education.'' Meetings are scheduled this week to see if the contract talks can get back on track. CFA teachers staged a one-day strike in November at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson and Cal State East Bay in Hayward.
In November, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a 9 percent tuition hike for the 2012-13 school year. Tuition will increase by $498, meaning undergraduate student fees will go from $5,472 in 2011-12 to $5,970 for 2012- 13. With campus-specific fees added in, the total cost for undergraduate students will be more than $7,000 for the full year. The increase will be on top of a 12 percent tuition hike that took effect this school year, and a 9 percent increase imposed in 2010.
In March, CSU board cuts forced Cal State Long Beach to cap classloads at 13 units, the student Daily 49er reported.
Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a budget that would extend some specific existing taxes for a finite time period to spare what would otherwise be unprecedented funding cuts demanded for the state to remain solvent.
"If the Brown initiative doesn’t pass," said the CSU's Keith, "we will get another $200 million in cuts," and each campus will have to reduce their budget. She said "each campus will have different type of situation to deal with."
Yamada of Long Beach State's CFA said the local campus cut is projected at $28 million if Brown's budget is not approved in November, and that blow would "decimate this university. It would mean eliminating half of all classes, or two entire schools."
--CNS contributed to this report.