Less than a week before California State University faculty members were set to begin a series of rolling strikes, union leaders reached a contract agreement with administrators.
Over the next four years, under the tentative deal reached April 3, all faculty members will receive a raise of 20.7 percent over the life of the contract. Some could receive an additional 10 percent.
The cost of the raises across the system is roughly $400 million over the next four years, or 10 percent of the university system's annual budget.
In a conference call with California Faculty Association board members, union president John Travis announced that the new deal being offered by the administration was very close to what faculty had been bargaining for. He said, however, that he would temper his optimism until the contract is ratified.
The California State University system is the largest university in the country, with 23 campuses spread out along California like an archipelago from Humboldt to San Diego. A CSU faculty strike would have been among the largest university strikes in U.S. history, with hundreds of canceled classes at Cal Poly alone.
The clash over a new contract stemmed from a 2001 report by the CSU, which revealed a lag in wages for both CSU faculty and administrators when compared to similar institutions. Administrators gave themselves a healthy raise to close the gap and proposed a new contract for faculty, but questions about the implementation and actual value of that proposal became a source of conflict.
Administrators maintained that their initial offer was more than fair. They had offered nearly a 25-percent raise, but faculty negotiators said the raises would only have been 14 percent for many, with some faculty members receiving the full amount. Under the original proposed contract, general salary increases would come at the cost of periodic "step" raises that keep faculty moving up the pay scale with time. Faculty had dubbed that an "experience penalty."
Negotiations for the new contract were approaching the two-year mark when the two sides came to an impasse, officially in December 2006. At that point, an independent "fact finder" was given the task of separating rhetoric from reality. The fact finder released a recommendation March 15, which became public 10 days later. When the two sides failed to agree on a working contract, the faculty union voted overwhelmingly to strike. The first set of rolling strikes was set for April 9, but the groups reached an agreement.
The tentative contract parallels to a large extent the recommendations made by the fact-finding committee. Yet even as faculty members celebrate a resolution, it will likely be a month before the contract language can be approved and ratified by both sides.
It's unclear how the CSU will pay for the raises, though the agreement comes on the heels of a statewide 10-percent student fee increase.
University spokeswoman Clara Potes-Fellow said that approximately $1.3 billion of the annual budget is generated from student fees, but she said that the student fee increase, approved March 15, and the contract agreement are unrelated. For San Luis Obispo's Cal Poly students, who already pay the highest fees in the system, full-time undergrads will now pay $4,600 or more annually.