Cal State faculty union vows to strike over the university’s final pay offer

Jackie Barrett, a student and intern with California Faculty Associations, speaks to the crowd during a faculty strike at CSU Pomona on Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

The faculty union of the California State University is planning a week of strikes across the 23 campuses Jan. 22 – 26 after the system said today that it would provide 5% raises to members, far below what the union is seeking.

The California Faculty Association is asking for 12% raises this fiscal year, plus other benefits, like extended parental leave and higher minimum salaries for the lowest-paid workers. But the 5% is an amount other employee unions in the system accepted last year as Cal State fought to stave off an even larger labor walk off. From Cal State’s perspective, its latest and final offer concludes contract negotiations. For the faculty union, it reaffirms its plans, broadcast in December, to strike in late January.

“Management’s imposition gives us no other option but to continue to move forward with our plan for a systemwide strike,” the faculty union told its members this afternoon.

Planning to join the faculty union on the picket lines is the smaller Teamsters Local 2010, a labor group of 1,100 skilled maintenance workers.

The whiplash in messaging — raises on one hand but a vow to strike in pursuit of higher pay and benefits — is yet another flare-up in the months-long standoff between leaders of the nation’s largest public four-year university, home to more than 400,000 students, and the faculty union that represents 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches. The union had already staged strikes at four campuses in December, cutting off instruction a week before the start of students’ final exams.

The university’s decision today also precedes tomorrow’s unveiling of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spending plan for 2024-25. He’s expected to spell out the state’s deep budget hole, which one analysis says will be a $68 billion deficit.

“Throughout the bargaining process, the CFA never veered from its initial salary demand, which was not financially viable and would have resulted in massive cuts to campuses — including layoffs — that would have jeopardized the CSU’s educational mission,” a Cal State press release stated today.

Charles Toombs, president of California Faculty Association and professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State University, speaks to union members during a rally outside the CSU Chancellor’s office in Long Beach on May 23, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters.

The 12% the union seeks is a response to the soaring inflation the nation experienced since 2021, when prices rose and the purchasing power of paychecks withered. An independent factfinder in December recommended that the two sides agree to a 7% raise, plus other compromises. But an offer of above 5% would have reopened salary negotiations with other unions because of terms agreed to in those contracts — something Cal State has wanted to avoid.

Throughout negotiations, the system was offering faculty 15% raises across three years, but the 10% for the last two years were contingent on the state continuing to grow Cal State’s funding by 5% annually. The union balked at raises predicated on conditions.

Cal State since last May has been signaling that its finances are rocky. The system said at that time its revenues fall $1.5 billion short of what it needs to adequately educate its students. That finding prompted the system’s board of trustees last September to approve five years of consecutively escalating tuition hikes — increases totaling 34% over that time. Those will kick in this fall, but will only affect about 40% of undergraduates. The remaining 60% of students don’t pay any tuition because they receive enough state and institutional financial aid. While those tuition hikes will bring more revenue to the system, it’s not enough to fully fund Cal State’s mission, its senior leaders have maintained.

Students, faculty and staff protest a potential tuition increase across the California State University system. CREDIT: MICHAEL LEE-CHANG / STUDENTS FOR QUALITY EDUCATION

The faculty union opposed those tuition hikes, arguing instead that Cal State has enough in reserves to afford the raises the union seeks and to spend more money on students without increasing what they’re charged. Cal State has pushed back on that analysis, noting that it needs to build its reserves so it has the equivalent of at least three months of its operating budget as cash on-hand in case of economic emergencies. Currently, it only has about a month’s worth of funds.

Monday was supposed to be the start of a week of bargaining between the faculty union and Cal State leadership to come to a deal and avoid the strike. But that ended poorly, union leadership said in a statement today. “After 20 minutes, the CSU management bargaining team threatened systemwide layoffs, walked out of bargaining, canceled all remaining negotiations, then imposed a last, best and final offer on CFA members,” wrote Charles Toombs, faculty president and a professor at San Diego State. 

The breakdown in negotiations was consistent with the tenor of relations between the two camps, which has been marked by frustration and a lack of trust.

Professors at Cal State earn on average between $91,000 and $122,000, full-time lecturers make ​​$71,000 on average and the 23 campus presidents have an average base salary of about $417,000, according to 2022 data compiled by CalMatters. Most lecturers are part-time and earned the equivalent of $64,000 on average in 2022.

Faculty groups have inveighed against the higher jumps in salaries top Cal State campus and system officials were awarded in recent years. A CalMatters analysis last month showed that while lecturers saw raises of 22% on average since 2007, presidents in that time saw base pay raises of 43% on average. The system’s new chancellor earns just shy of $800,000 in base pay and about $1 million when adding housing, auto and other perks.

But even if faculty and the system resolve the current labor dispute, a wider set of contract items will be up for negotiation this June.

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