PHILADELPHIA - Contract negotiations resumed Friday between Pennsylvania higher education officials and the union representing faculty at 14 state universities, just days before a scheduled strike authorization vote.
The talks being held in Harrisburg aim to break an impasse on issues including compensation for temporary instructors, health care benefits and online education.
Members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties have been working without a contract since June 2011. They are scheduled to hold strike authorization votes on campuses statewide on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
If passed, the vote empowers union chapter presidents at each campus to call a strike; 10 of the 14 must approve a walkout.
The union objects to a proposal by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to cut pay for temporary, or adjunct, faculty by about 35 percent. That would reduce starting salaries from about $44,000 to $29,000 annually, which the union calls "public assistance level wages."
System officials say the reduction makes its wages comparable with those at peer institutions.
State officials also want to raise health care deductibles and co-payments in order to lower overall premiums for employees and the system as a whole. The change could save $7.5 million per year, according to system spokesman Kenn Marshall.
The union counters that it could cost some members hundreds of dollars extra per year in user fees.
Also in dispute are incentives for distance education. For the past several years, instructors have been receiving extra pay for voluntarily developing and teaching online courses.
State officials argue such classes are so integrated into university life now that they don't merit additional compensation. The union says the change includes language that could unfairly force instructors to teach online, based on a decision by their department head.
A union committee will meet Nov. 16 in Harrisburg to count ballots from the strike authorization votes. The union, which represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches, has never gone on strike.
The state declined the union's offer of binding arbitration last month.
About 120,000 students attend the state universities in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Classes for the fall semester are set to end Dec. 7, with finals beginning on Dec. 10.
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