LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some 24,000 California State University employees on Monday started a two-weeklong vote on whether to authorize their union to declare a strike after 22 months of negotiations failed to yield a new contract.
Key issues include an administration proposal to freeze salaries at current levels, which have not changed since 2008, with a proviso that talks on pay and benefits would be reopened for 2012-13. The union has proposed a 1 percent raise.
Members of the California Faculty Association, which represents professors, librarians, coaches and counselors across the system's 23 campuses, have until April 27 to say whether they authorize the union's board of directors to call a two-day strike at an unspecified date.
Union leaders said they expect that faculty will support the move.
"The mood is overwhelmingly supportive that we need to send a strong message to the chancellor and the board of trustees that we need a fair contract," said Andy Merrifield, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.
At San Francisco State University, where the voting drive kicked off with a rally, a majority of faculty have already signed pledge cards supporting a walkout, said Phil Klasky, ethnic studies professor. "We don't want to strike, but we will," he said. "We're at a crisis."
Under the "rolling strike" plan, groups of campuses would go out on strike for two days each, one immediately after another.
The strike vote comes during a turbulent time for CSU, which has lost $970 million in state funding since 2008.
The 400,000-student system has hiked tuition, laid off faculty and slashed admissions, spurring campus protests that have resulted in arrests of unruly demonstrators and shouting matches at board of trustee meetings.
The union and the administration have been at loggerheads since the last three-year contract expired in June 2010. The union proposed extending the contract, but the administration opened talks for a new contract that culminated in an impasse on April 6.
CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said the administration remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached. The next step in the legal bargaining process is the assignment of a fact finder by the state Public Employees Relations Board to hear both sides and propose a resolution.
If the fact finder's proposal is rejected by either side, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed can impose the administration's last contract offer and the union would decide whether to stage a walkout.
"It's a bit premature to be discussing a strike vote," Uhlenkamp said. "We're still in the process of bargaining."
.Administrators also seek to shift a larger portion of the salaries for faculty members serving as union officers to the union, and charging more for faculty members' doctoral programs.
Faculty, on the other hand, want a guarantee of academic freedom, the right to set appropriate class size and more job stability and tenure for temporary faculty.
Employees are frustrated that the administration will not cede to a small salary raise and other issues at the same time that they are granting 10 percent pay hikes to campus presidents, said Lillian Taiz, president of the association and a history professor at CSU Los Angeles.
"Faculty are angry, they're fed up," she said. "They've been asked to take a lot of hits while campus presidents are getting 10 percent raises."
The association last held a one-day walkout last November at two campuses to protest raises that went unpaid in 2008-09 and 2009-10 under the last contract.