University pact called 'truly fair'

Posted: July 04, 2007

Under the terms of a new four-year contract unveiled yesterday in Harrisburg, faculty members at the 14 Pennsylvania-owned universities would receive a lump-sum payment in the first year and annual salary increases totaling 10 percentage points in the remaining years.

"This is truly a fair and balanced contract," said Gov. Rendell, who appeared at an 11 a.m. news conference yesterday with leaders from both sides and their negotiating teams.

The contract must still be ratified by the rank and file, a process that could take more than a month to complete, said Pat Heilman, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

The deal, which came at the end of five days of marathon bargaining, narrowly averted a strike that would have disrupted summer classes for 25,000 students and other programs at the schools. The previous contract expired Saturday.

"We had many, many faculty who were ready to walk," said Cliff Johnston, president of the union's West Chester University chapter. "They were prepared to possibly lose a significant amount of money to secure a good contract."

Johnston gave credit to the negotiating team, but he was not ready to assess the deal because he had not had time to review it in detail.

On the West Chester campus yesterday, student Matt Ziegler, 21, said that if there had been a walkout, he would have lost his mentoring job with the Academic Development Program and the pay and free room that go with it. Plus, he was taking a class that he would have had to make up in the fall, he said.

"I'm glad, excited, ecstatic - pick your word - that it's settled," said Ziegler. "Or I would have been out of luck myself."

Under the tentative agreement, union members would receive a $1,750 cash payment in the first year, followed by annual salary increases of 3 percent in the second and third years, and 4 percent in the final year. The union had originally sought a 20 percent increase over four years.

Members would also continue to pay 10 percent of their annual premium for health-care benefits for the first three years and 15 percent in the final year. They would also be required to join a wellness program or pay a higher share of their premium, up to 25 percent.

Heilman said the agreement also dedicates money for new tenure-line hires, an effort to stem the early departure of junior faculty from the system.

"We want to mentor and cultivate them so that they and their senior colleagues before them will stay with the state system," she said.

Judy G. Hample, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said the contract would give management some of its long-sought prerogatives governing work rules and other issues.

Rendell said that Pennsylvania has had the lowest tuition increases of any state system in the country.

"We want to keep tuition affordable," he said. "This contract allows us to do that."

The union represents 5,500 faculty members. According to the Associated Press, the average nine-month salary for full-time faculty was $70,000 in the 2006-07 academic year, and maximum salaries currently range from $60,000 for instructors to roughly $98,000 for full professors.

The state system schools are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.


The Contract at a Glance

Major provisions in a tentative four-year pact covering faculty members at the 14 state-owned universities:

Salaries: Provides $1,750 cash bonuses for all faculty members in the first year, followed by raises of 3 percent in the second and third years and 4 percent in the fourth year. Provides seniority-based increases of 2.5 percent or 5 percent annually to faculty members still below top scale, while top-scale members would receive a cash payment equal to 2.5 percent of their salary in the final year.

Health benefits: Maintains the current employee contribution rate - 10 percent of health-care premiums - until the final year, when it would increase to 15 percent. Requires faculty to participate in a wellness program in the final two years; those who do not would pay 15 percent in the third year and 25 percent in the fourth year.

Other issues: Gives the universities more latitude to hire temporary nonunion faculty. Reduces the per-student reimbursement rate for professors teaching "distance-learning" classes over TV or the Internet as enrollment in the classes increases. Expands benefits for same-sex partners to include health care and tuition waivers.

SOURCE: Associated Press


Contact staff writer Nancy Petersen at 610-701-7602 or npetersen@phillynews.com.

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