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On Wednesday, the Chancellor publicly released the letter he sent on Monday refusing APSCUF’s offer of binding arbitration. It is clear from the letter that the Chancellor and his team do not believe that the State System’s faculty and coaches are entitled to the same fair contract that the Governor signed with the Commonwealth’s other major public-sector unions. He seems to have little interest in settling a fair contract that maintains quality public higher education in the Commonwealth. Follow the link to read APSCUF’s response to the Chancellor.

Dear Chancellor Cavanaugh:

I was disappointed by your refusal to participate in binding arbitration. After fifteen months without a contract and given the challenges facing the System, it seemed to us to be a rational way to proceed toward a fair contract so that we could all focus our energies on serving our students to our maximum capacities. Certainly, if you are convinced that your bargaining positions are supported by reason, you should not hesitate to submit to an impartial review.

When we began this process in 2010, you offered us interest-based bargaining. Your letter lays out, painfully in my view, your “interests,” which include dramatic reductions in wages and benefits for faculty members, none of which appear in any of the agreements with other employees of the state. Your interests, we believe, threaten the promise of quality higher education for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Having seen your interests, I am going to articulate ours below.

The first step in interest-based bargaining is for the two sides to agree on assumptions: the facts. The text of your letter, and your statements to the media, suggest that we have substantial disagreements about basic facts.

A major point in your response, which is often repeated by your representatives, trumpets that you have “reached agreement with five other bargaining units.” In truth, two of the contracts to which you refer (including the one with your second largest bargaining unit, AFSCME), were negotiated by the Governor, and not by PASSHE. Those agreements, like the other statewide contracts include a pattern of economics that we have accepted and you have rejected. Every offer that you have made to APSCUF has been dramatically worse than those offers, even though every other state agency covered by those CBAs is in poorer financial shape than the System.

The three other bargaining units to which you refer do not include the draconian reductions in health care that you seek from our members, both active and retired. The fact is that all three have “me too” clauses with management health care, which has yet to be resolved. Your claim to have reached agreements with these bargaining units is disingenuous and misleading. Moreover, the data you have offered simply make no sense. For instance, the summary you provided the Board of Governors last week on the OPEIU agreement claims $388,000 in health care savings! How? There are only 86 OPEIU members; that would be a saving of over $4,000 per person. What did they agree to that could garner such savings?

Your letter talks about your interest in “aligning” our health care with the PEBTF. However, we have spent many, many months at the table attempting to get your side to “align” with the PEBTF by requesting proposals for a self-insured plan (which PEBTF does) and by carving out prescription and other service coverage (which PEBTF does). Other organizations that have taken this step have saved millions. Virtually no other entity the size of PASSHE engages in a fully insured program. Yet, so far, we have no seen no progress on this. You have consistently rejected opportunities to find cost savings other than through the reckless shifting of costs onto the backs of your employees.

Further, your letter leaves out a very important fact. The reality is that APSCUF faculty pay more for their health care than any other public-sector unit in the Commonwealth. The 15-25 percent of premium paid by the faculty amounts to more than triple what the average PEBTF member pays. Moreover, PASSHE has been paying reduced premium costs for years while charging our members the percentage on an artificially high number. The actual contribution by our members is substantially greater, in reality, than the 15-25 percent number in our contract.

Your letter casually refers to your interest in “realigning” the salary of temporary faculty. What you fail to mention is the fact that we shared with your negotiations team data that explain that according to MIT’s living wage calculation, the current scale pays BELOW a living wage for a family. I am certain people will understand that it is not in APSCUF’s interest to see members of our university faculties “realigned” further below a living wage. Your latest proposal calls for a salary reduction of 35 percent!

This interest of yours also ignores the fact that temporary faculty are already paid differently than permanent faculty: they are most often hired at the lowest possible wage and they rarely receive any step increases. Using PASSHE’s numbers, we calculate that you already pay temporary faculty more than 20 percent less than their “permanent” colleagues.

Your letter mentions your interest in a defined contribution model for new hires’ annuitant health care. The Governor’s negotiators did not negotiate any similar model with any other bargaining unit. You have not negotiated this into any contract you have signed thus far. On the one hand, you claim to want to “realign” us, but, on the other, you seem more interested in treating us worse than any other public-sector bargaining unit in the Commonwealth.

Finally, your letter fails to identify one of OUR major interests: curriculum and class size. APSCUF has made multiple iterations of proposals in an attempt to have a serious discussion about this issue at the table; so far we have not received a single counter proposal from your team. This is occurring at a time when curriculum matters are under stress from outside forces and class size in the system has grown consistently over the last decade, far faster than any other of Pennsylvania’s institutions, whether it be the community colleges, private colleges, or state-related universities. It has even grown faster than it has at four-year institutions in any of our neighboring states. We see this as central to an agreement; your side has not responded yet.

At a time when our “interests” should align, when we should be working to protect the interests of public higher education and the families it serves, you have publicly embraced a financial assault on our System and pursued a collective bargaining strategy far worse than that of the financially strapped Commonwealth. As an educator who has long been engaged in public higher education, your behavior is both perplexing and disturbing.

Hopefully, in the coming negotiations sessions we can further discuss our interests. APSCUF looks forward to fairness in your future dealings with us. I hope that we can see that soon, so that we can all focus our attention on providing our students the quality education they deserve. Please be fair to the faculty that you have recognized as the “heart of our universities.”

Steve Hicks