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Jun 25, 3:15 PM EDT

Faculty union to mull strike authorization in August


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The union representing faculty members at Pennsylvania's 14 state universities set an August date for a decision on whether members will take a strike authorization vote.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said an emergency legislative assembly was scheduled after no progress was made in talks Friday with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Delegates from all 14 campuses are to convene via conference on Aug. 25 to decide whether members will take a strike authorization vote. If a majority of delegates approve, the union will set a date for a vote.

The announcement came despite several other bargaining sessions planned over the summer, the next one on July 19. Faculty members have been working without a new contract since the last agreement expired in June of last year.

The union represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches at Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester universities.

The state system wants employees to pay $3 to $14 more every two-week pay period toward the cost of their health insurance premiums, depending on their levels of coverage. The system also wants temporary faculty to teach an additional course per semester, and to no longer provide retiree health care coverage for future faculty members. The two sides are not yet discussing salary issues.

Union officials said the state system is proposing 249 contract changes, so many that "it all just collectively seems like noise," union president Ken Mash said.

"The one thing that rings out is that these changes would turn our universities into degree factories, not places for our students to earn a quality education," he said.

Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the system, has said the union's proposals, including free fitness memberships for faculty and their spouses and fee waivers for dependents, would hurt a system already facing financial difficulty and declining enrolment.

"We're facing very serious financial troubles, and they're looking to add more costs," he said.

The union, which has never gone on strike, decided against a walkout in April, saying such an action at the very end of the semester "would unfairly burden students and their families."

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