© 2024 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
89.3 Fresno | 89.1 Bakersfield
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Valley CSU faculty call for higher wages during strike. Some say their request is too costly

Fresno State faculty filled intersections near campus on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, on the first day of a strike at all California State University campuses. Faculty are demanding higher salaries and better working conditions.
Kerry Klein
Fresno State faculty filled intersections near campus on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, on the first day of a strike at all California State University campuses. Faculty are demanding higher salaries and better working conditions.

Jan. 23, 2024 update: After just one day of striking, California State University faculty announced late Monday night they reached a tentative deal with the system. The deal amounts to a 10% raise and a number of other work accommodations. A vote on the deal by the union is expected in the coming weeks. The week-long strike has been called off and faculty are making plans to return to the classroom.

Original story:

FRESNO, Calif. — Unionized faculty from California State University are striking this week after failing to come to a deal with the 23-campus system.

For the three campuses in the San Joaquin Valley, it will be the first time they strike since bargaining for a new contract started last year.

The California Faculty Association union has been fighting for a 12% pay raise, but this month the CSU said it would give a 5% pay raise over three years. The raise would go into effect at the end of this month.

CSU Chancellor Mildred García outlined her position in a press conference Friday, and said the system needed to remain committed to long-term stability and be fiscally prudent. García said the CSU is open to coming back to the bargaining table and urged the union to make an agreement that is within what she called “financial realities.”

“One of the reasons I accepted this role was because I know that the CSU system is unlike any other in the country when it comes to the sheer scale of our impact,” Garcia said, who began her role four months ago, and manages the country’s largest public university system.

“Elevating lives, families, and communities and providing the educated and diverse workforce that drives California's economic prosperity,” she added. “This is why we must do everything we can to ensure the CSU's future in the decisions we make today.”

University leaders like Leora Freedman, vice chancellor for human resources, have argued the raise the union is asking for would be too costly.

“The faculty union’s compensation demands would cost CSU approximately $380 million in the first year alone and every year after that,” Freedman said. “This is $150 million more than the CSU’s entire funding increase from the state of California in [fiscal year] 23-24.”

The faculty union has argued the CSU could use money from their reserves to cover the proposed salary increase. Freedman said “one-time funds such as reserves cannot be used for ongoing recurring expenses like salaries.”

According to Freedman, the CSU system only has enough reserves to cover one month’s worth of operational costs, but board policy requires a university to have three to six month’s worth.

The California Faculty Association is composed of 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, coaches and counselors.

The Teamsters union, whichrepresents over 1,100 skilled trades workers in the CSU system, had planned to strike with the faculty union but reached an agreement with the system Friday.

Faculty say strike is about more than pay

Faculty at campuses in the San Joaquin Valley say the strike is not just for a 12% pay raise.

“We have a very tight relationship with our students and the community,” said Dave Colnic, the union chapter president at CSU Stanislaus. “It is our chance to show that we are striking not just for ourselves, but also for them.”

Colnic said faculty are also fighting for better working conditions and to improve time in the classroom and provide more mental health counselors for students and staff.

Tracey Salisbury, the union chapter president at California State University Bakersfield says their campus is also focusing the strike against the 6% tuition hike at the CSU approved in September. The hike will be added over the next five years.

“We think it is highly unfair for our campus,” Salisbury told KVPR. “A lot of our students are first-time college [students], work full-time and have families. We have a lot of non-traditional age students; our average students are aged over 22. So a tuition hike is a serious hardship.”

CSU Stanislaus and Bakersfield are among the smallest universities in the system. Colnic and Salisbury said being a small campus presents a unique set of circumstances ahead of the strike.

“Our part-time lecture faculty is probably twice the size of our full-time faculty,” Salisbury said. “So we are depending on our lecturers, which is a challenge because a lot of our lecturers – because of the low pay – work additional jobs. So they're having to make arrangements to be out on the picket lines.”

Students asked to report concerns

Amid the calls for the strike, CSU students received emails detailing how the university system was planning to provide academic support when it happens.

The email included a form for students to report class or student services cancellations, which raised concerns among some students that it could be a way to unjustly monitor professors.

Sahar Fayaz, who attends Stanislaus State, is among students who had developed a feeling the form amounted to “snitching” on professors who participated in the strike.

“The system is taking advantage of us and doesn’t have our best interests at heart,” Fayaz, 24, said.

During Friday’s press conference, Christina Checel, the CSU’s associate vice chancellor of labor and employee relations said the link is intended for students to share feedback during the strike.

“The information will be used to try to gauge the impacts and how our students have been impacted by the strike,” Checel said. “It's not the only thing that we will be looking at but it is one way where we can allow students who want to share information to do so.”

John Beynon, a union chapter president at Fresno State, said some students reported the form is being bombarded with phony reports.

“For example, there have been reports that Donald Duck isn't showing up to teach the quackery course, in room ‘Get back to the bargaining table 101,’” he said.

Union chapter leaders say they, too, have prepared responses to the form, while other faculty have instead focused on reassuring their colleagues there will be no retaliation against those who are reported.

Beynon said his chapter at Fresno State will simply focus on the strike ahead.

“We're not taking the bait,” he said. “We're focusing on what we need to do.”

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.