Seeking to avoid threatened walkouts in the massive Cal State University system, the faculty union and administration agreed Sunday to defuse their labor dispute and extend the current contract for 10 more days of negotiations.
Their conciliatory move came after the public release Sunday of an impartial fact-finder's report that both sides said could form the basis of an agreement in the two-year standoff at the 23-campus system. The report recommended a series of pay raises that would total about 24.8% by 2010 and be retroactive to last year for professors, librarians, counselors and coaches.
Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the 417,000-student Cal State system, which is the nation's largest university, said he was "optimistic that a settlement can be reached during these 10 days."
John Travis, the Humboldt State professor who is president of the California Faculty Assn., also described the situation as promising. "We have 10 more days, and we hope to be able to work through this," he said at a special meeting of the Cal State trustees in Long Beach.
The contract for the 24,000-member faculty expired in June 2005 and had been extended monthly through stalled negotiations and the subsequent fact-finding. But the contract was about to end Sunday, and the union said it was preparing for a rolling series of two-day walkouts throughout the university starting in early April.
"Nobody wants a strike, especially with a focus on the importance of students and their eduction," Reed said.
Travis portrayed the fact-finder's proposals as "close enough" to the union's previous demands and said the report could form the outlines of a pact. In complicated formulas, the report suggested salary raises totaling 24.87%, just short of the 25.2% the union sought. Additional merit and longevity raises would sweeten the plan.
The university had been offering about 25%, but some of that increase would have been in discretionary merit raises.
But the union lost on some counts when the fact-finder, Sylvia Skratek of Seattle, did not recommend a wide expansion of the faculty who could receive the extra raises for longevity and performance, and she staggered the timing of some raises to save the university money. Also, Skratek did not adopt the union's ideas on such topics as extending maternity and paternity leaves and limiting parking fee increases.
"My observation was that the fact-finder tried to be fair to both sides and split the difference," Reed said.
The average pay for Cal State faculty is about $86,000 for fully tenured professors, $74,000 for professors on the tenure track and $47,000 for full-time lecturers, officials said.
Skratek cited a report by the California Postsecondary Education Commission that projected Cal State faculty pay this year would be about 18% below pay at similar universities nationwide.
"The challenge was to shape a recommendation that would make progress toward closing the gap while recognizing that there was not an infinite amount of money available," Skratek wrote in her report.