Sonoma State University faculty votes on whether to strike

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Faculty members at Sonoma State University and other California State University campuses began voting Monday on whether to authorize their union to call a strike if there is no breakthrough in stalled salary negotiations with university administrators.

The California Faculty Association is seeking a 5 percent salary increase for all its members, along with a 2.7 percent pay bump based on years of service. The university is offering raises of 2 percent, the same increase all other employees at the 23-campus CSU system received.

“After a decade of stagnation and years of furloughs, we need more,” said Elaine Newman, a professor of math and statistics at SSU and president of the union’s Sonoma chapter.

Negotiations between the CFA and the university are at an impasse, according to Toni Molle, director of public affairs for the Office of the Chancellor. The university system wants to increase employees’ salaries, Molle said, but there are also priorities like enrollment growth, facility improvements and repairs and technology upgrades. The raises sought by the union would cost $69 million more than has been budgeted, she said.

“There’s only so much of the pie that can go to compensation,” Molle said.

The strike authorization vote, which started Monday at the 23 Cal State campuses, is scheduled to run through Oct. 28. No specific dates have been set for the threatened strike, and the earliest one would be held is the spring semester that starts in January, said Jennifer Eagan, president of the faculty association.

The union has conducted at least three previous strike authorization votes over the past eight years. One resulted in a one-day walkout in 2011 at two CSU campuses in the East Bay and Dominguez Hills. But the nation’s largest public university system, which enrolls about 460,000 students, has not been subject to a full faculty strike since system-wide collective bargaining began in the early 1980s.

Walkouts were averted in 2007 and 2012 when negotiators for the administration and the union reached settlements before strikes were declared.

The average salary for a full professor is currently $96,064 for nine months of work, while a full-time lecturer earns $59,333, on average, according to figures released by the CSU chancellor’s office. “Faculty were the only group of employees to receive salary increases and tenure-track salary promotions during the recession years,” Molle said.

Newman, however, said average salary figures are “misleading.” About half of the university’s faculty are hired on part-time contracts, according to the faculty association. She said a median would better reflect the “typical” faculty member’s salary of $45,000, because the averages are swayed upwards by the relatively small number of instructors at the top end of the salary scale.

The California Faculty Association, which represents all 606 faculty members at SSU, argues that pay in the CSU system has not kept pace with raises awarded to professors at the University of California and the state’s community colleges.

Napoleon Reyes, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice and CFA junior faculty representative, said that an increase in salary will help him personally and improve the education experience for his students.

“For so long, the administration has not prioritized education, especially at SSU, and it’s spilling over to how we do our job and teach,” Reyes said.

He said a decision to increase class sizes, from 25 to 48 students in some cases, has reduced his ability to interact with students and help them individually. He said it has also become more difficult to recruit and retain faculty at the Rohnert Park university, which has 9,400 students enrolled this year.

“I’m doing the best I can to bring about change, but if nothing else works, I have to consider other options,” he said.

Jess Hazlewood, a lecturer in the English department who has been teaching at SSU for five years, said the university’s 2 percent pay raise proposal does not reflect the high cost of living in the Bay Area. Part-time lecturers are particularly affected by the stagnant salaries, she said, pointing to a fellow lecturer who commuted between three college campuses and taught eight courses. This person worked every day, including weekends, from morning until night, and was still just scraping by, she said.

The only way Hazlewood can survive as a lecturer, she said, is because of a second income in her household.

“If I had to support myself and my two children on my own, there’s no way I could do this job,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Ariana Reguzzoni at 521-5205 or ariana.reguzzoni@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @arianareg.

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