Hundreds of chanting, banner-waving Cal State faculty members marched to the chancellor's office in Long Beach on Tuesday, announcing their resolve to walk out of classes in the nation's largest university system if an agreement is not reached in a long-running pay dispute.
The march and a noontime rally during a meeting of the Board of Trustees took on the air of a festival, with music, flash mobs, skits and professors in red T-shirts chanting: "We don't want to strike, but we will."
Faculty tooted horns and held signs that said "White is too tight," a reference to Chancellor Timothy P. White.
The protest comes nearly two weeks after the California Faculty Assn. announced overwhelming support for a strike, with 94.4% of members who cast a ballot voting in favor.
The union represents about 26,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches at the 23-campus system.
The faculty union and White have been deadlocked since June over salary increases for 2015-16, with White offering a 2% across-the-board pay hike and the union demanding a 5% increase, with an additional 2.65% boost for faculty at the lower end of the pay scale.
"After years of wage stagnation that has so many of our faculty falling out of the middle class, 2% is simply not sustainable," said faculty association President Jennifer Eagan, a professor at Cal State East Bay.
Many professors said that they lost financial stability during the recession that has not been regained, even as the state's fiscal picture has improved and as funding for higher education systems, including Cal State, has risen under a multi-year plan devised by Gov. Jerry Brown.
After going five years without a raise, faculty members received a 1.34% pay increase in 2013 and a 1.6% boost last year.
But the union produced a series of reports highlighting that some faculty members rely on food stamps and hold two jobs to make ends meet. According to the reports, more than half of the Cal State faculty members, who include part-time lecturers as well as full-time professors, make less than $38,000 in gross earnings.
Gwen Urey, a professor of urban and regional planning at Cal Poly Pomona, said her real income has been reduced 10% since the recession. Many of her colleagues are demoralized, she said.
"We are being asked to do more service work even as enrollment is increasing and class sizes have gone up," Urey said. "I'm definitely prepared and ready to go on strike. A lot of us are dedicated to our students and don't want to hurt them, but students are also being hurt by this way of running a university."
Urey and others asserted that White and the trustees have misplaced priorities, noting a proposal on the trustees' Wednesday agenda that would lift a pay cap on campus presidents.
Cal State officials dispute many of the salary figures cited by faculty members. New tenure track faculty hired as assistant professors started at a base pay of $72,519 in 2014 for 9.5 months of work, they say.
Other adjustments to eliminate wage disparities, they said, have been made on individual campuses. Further, the 2% increase was approved for all employee groups as part of the state budget deal, said Lori Lamb, Cal State's vice chancellor for human resources.
Addressing trustees, Lamb noted that the 2% faculty increase is valued at $33 million, whereas a 5% raise would cost about $102 million. That difference could mean fewer funds to increase enrollment and address other priorities, officials said.
"As a system, we face significant employee compensation challenges," Lamb said. "These took multiple years to create and will take multiple years to address."
But Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), a trustee, cautioned White and fellow trustees that the salary impasse could affect the California Legislature's willingness to carve out more money for the system in negotiations for the 2016-17 budget. Cal State is seeking an additional $241.7 million from the state, far more than the $139.4 million proposed by Brown.
Last year the system won plaudits from legislators in negotiating its full funding request without threatening tuition increases.
"I do worry that the impasse we're at today is going to impact that relationship," Atkins said. "A key component of what makes CSU great is faculty."
During a break in the meeting, Atkins also addressed the rally, drawing cheers when she told participants that they must take the fight to Sacramento and hold the Legislature and Brown accountable.
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