Sonoma State University faculty cheer pay deal that scuttled strike plans

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Terms of the tentative CSU faculty contract

• 5 percent salary increase on June 30

• Additional 2 percent hike on July 1

• 3.5 percent increase on July 1, 2017

• Professors also could be eligible for an additional 2.65 percent increase based on years served

• Cost of the contract: $200 million

Sonoma State University professors said Friday that they were satisfied and relieved by the tentative agreement reached between their union and the California State University system, welcoming a deal that offers significant raises to faculty and averts a potentially historic strike that threatened to cripple the 23-campus network next week.

The reaction came as CSU officials and representatives of the 26,000-member California Faculty Association unveiled terms of the proposed three-year contract, which calls for a total pay raise of 10.5 percent and additional raises linked to promotions.

The deal still awaits a vote by university trustees and the faculty union. Still, it was hailed Friday by professors, who were adamant in their call for pay increases after years of flat salaries. They reiterated that they were prepared to strike on Wednesday without progress toward a contract that compensated them for income they gave up during the recession and its aftermath.

“You would have found empty classrooms, empty offices and empty desks,” said Elaine Newman, an SSU math and statistics professor and the local representative on the faculty union.

“Not only did we have unity among faculty, we had an outpouring of student support,” she said.

The deal was struck this week after months of protracted negotiations between the two sides. CSU Chancellor Timothy White, in a written statement, described the agreement as a compromise that “enables all of us to focus our efforts on serving students,” while avoiding the “negative impacts of the threatened strikes.”

The contract is expected to cost CSU, the nation’s largest public university system, about $200 million. It calls for a 5 percent pay increase on June 30 and another 2 percent hike the following day, July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Faculty then will receive a 3.5 percent increase on July 1, 2017. Some professors also would be eligible that year for an additional 2.65 percent increase based on their years of service.

The deal meets the union’s previous demand for a 5 percent increase for the 2015-16 school year. The university system, which enrolls about 470,000 students, had said it could only afford 2 percent.

The deadlock was broken days after an independent fact-finding panel weighed in largely on the side of faculty, saying that professors’ pay had not kept pace, and that the salary boosts would serve students.

SSU professors were relieved by news of the agreement. They had been advised to hold off on strike plans earlier this week when the two sides entered their final rounds of negotiations.

“People are relieved that we don’t have to go through the process of picketing and shutting the campus down,” said Laura Watt, an SSU associate professor and chair of Environmental Studies and Planning Department.

Still, Newman, the SSU representative on the faculty union, said much more needed to be done over the next few years to bring faculty salaries in parity with the community college and University of California systems.

During the recession, professors accepted unpaid furloughs that amounted to a 10 percent pay cut, faculty members said.

“We had a decade of no increases,” Newman said. “We’re lagging behind inflation.”

Terms of the tentative CSU faculty contract

• 5 percent salary increase on June 30

• Additional 2 percent hike on July 1

• 3.5 percent increase on July 1, 2017

• Professors also could be eligible for an additional 2.65 percent increase based on years served

• Cost of the contract: $200 million

Members of the faculty union, including part-time instructors, earn on average $45,000 annually before taxes and other deductions, according to the union. If all faculty members were full-time, the average salary would be $63,000, the union stated in a report released last spring.

The union represents 625 faculty members at SSU, Newman said. She said SSU faculty lost $10,000 in purchasing power over the decade. Meanwhile, home prices and rental costs continued to skyrocket in the county, making it difficult to attract and retain quality professors, she said. Many professors commute from Vallejo, Vacaville and surrounding areas because they cannot afford to live in the county, Newman said. Others have taken on second jobs, she said.

When the furloughs were implemented, Watt said she took a part-time job at a winery, pouring wine to cover her bills.

“It was either get a second job or move away,” she said.

Starting this July, faculty promoted from assistant to associate professor or associate to full professor also will receive a minimum salary increase of 9 percent, compared to the current minimum of 7.5 percent. However, under the new deal it will take twice as long for new employees to get vested in the university’s retirement plan. They’ll now have to work 10 years to receive full retirement benefits.

This report includes information from Associated Press. You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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