To avert a strike at the nation's largest public university system, California State University administrators should grant faculty members the 5% pay raise their union has been demanding for nearly a year, an independent mediator said Monday.
The recommendation isn't binding. But it does increase the odds that 26,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches will strike next month if university administrators keep insisting they can only afford to offer a 2% raise, said California Faculty Assn. President Jennifer Eagan.
"If we had faculty that were on the fence, I think this will drive folks to the picket lines and make them brave," said Eagan, a professor of philosophy and public administration at Cal State East Bay.
The faculty union has already approved a strike for April 13 to 15, April 18 and April 19.
Rebecca Cummings, an English lecturer at Cal State Long Beach, said she is ready to go.
"If any of my colleagues needed a further nudge, I hope this report does the trick," Cummings said. "I'm pretty fired up, myself. I'll be out there every day."
Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said he would discuss the mediator's report with trustees next week. Officials have pledged to keep the 23-campus system open during a strike, but White acknowledged that any work stoppage would be problematic.
"The only people who are going to get hurt are students," he said. "We pride ourselves on being focused on student success; to stop services for them is not in their best interest."
The report was prepared by Bonnie Prouty Castrey, a specialist in conflict resolution, after negotiations between faculty and administrators reached an impasse last summer.
Both sides had presented Castrey with evidence supporting their positions. In siding with the union, she noted that educators' pay had stagnated during the recession and "the faculty are still suffering from structural salary issues as well as the lack of substantial salary increases."
In addition to a general 5% raise, Castrey also recommended that some faculty receive additional increases based on their length of service and other factors.
All this would cost the Cal State system about $102 million a year, White said.
In addition, contracts in place with other unions would require administrators to grant raises to members of other bargaining units, White said.
Administrators have set aside only $33 million for a 2% faculty raise, White said. Paying any more this fiscal year is a "non-starter" because it would mean taking money from programs to boost technology on campuses and improve graduation rates by increasing the number of professors and counselors.
"I cannot spend money I do not have," White said. "That would be irresponsible."
The system has an annual operating budget of nearly $5.8 billion. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
An accounting professor from Eastern Michigan University who analyzed the Cal State budget on behalf of the faculty union found that the system had about $500 million in excess cash flow in 2015 and more than $2 billion in reserves. Cal State administrators have disputed those figures.
Eagan said administrators have tried to use the $33 million set aside for the 2% pay increase as a bargaining chip and could have set aside more funding for raises earlier in the year.
"They should have bargained with us and then set their budget, not the other way around," she said.
In her report, Castrey also suggested both sides work together to lobby lawmakers for more Cal State funding.
White said he was eager to give that a try.
"I look forward to working with union leadership to advocate for our students," he said.
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