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Cal State faculty taking strike vote

March 06, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Faculty of the largest state university system in the country began voting Monday on their willingness to strike if labor negotiations fail to produce a contract this month.

The vote comes after nearly two years of contract negotiations between the California State University administration and the California Faculty Assn., which represents about 24,000 faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches statewide.

Union members on 16 of the 23 campuses will vote this week on whether they would be willing to strike. The remainder will vote next week, and the League of Women Voters will tally the votes. Results are expected to be released March 21.

"I think it will be a strong 'yes' vote," said Lillian Taiz, union chapter president at Cal State L.A. "I'm very confident about that. You just have to walk the halls and talk to people to hear how angry they are and happy to have something to do. People have had enough."

The two sides are awaiting the report of a neutral fact-finder, which will analyze the negotiations.

After the release of the report, expected next week, there will be an obligatory 10-day period of further negotiations before any walkouts could start.

Union officials said they needed a majority "yes" vote from members to authorize a strike. They said that if the fact-finding report fails to produce any headway and negotiations again stall, two-day "rolling strikes" would occur throughout the statewide system.

The chances of a strike are "better than 50-50," said union President John Travis. "There is some hope that we'll be able to get enough direction from the fact-finder report that will let us get back to the table and negotiate a fair contract. But they haven't shown much willingness, at this point, to bargain."

In September, union and administration officials reached an impasse over salary increases. When mediation failed, the fact-finding stage began.

The previous contract expired in July 2005 and has been renewed on a monthly basis.

Both parties agree that a roughly 25% raise over the four-year contract would be fair, but union officials said the administration's offer was "virtual money" with "lots of strings and contingencies" that would reduce the actual amount of the raises. They said they would take a true 25% increase if it were offered.

The last faculty raise since 2002 was 3.5% in 2005. Union officials argue that administrators and executives have received pay raises and perks while faculty have been told there isn't enough money to increase their salaries.

Cal State spokeswoman Claudia Keith said the university system is still recovering from having $521 million cut from its budget since 2002.

"We just don't know what the fact-finder will say -- it's not a binding agreement on either side -- but we're hoping there's some flexibility so we can come to some sort of an agreement," Keith said.

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