Radio PA Roundtable – February 21, 2014

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, we bring you more from the state budget hearings in Harrisburg, checking in with the PLCB, the State System of Higher Education and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

State System Finalizing Deal with One Unit, Still Talking to Largest Union

Talks are continuing between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and its faculty union as another bargaining unit gives thumbs up to a new four year deal.

Members of the State College and University Professional Association (SCUPA) ratified a new contract last week with PSSHE. The union represents about 600 admissions, financial aid, and student support service officers on the 14 campuses.  The agreement goes to the Board of Governors for final approval.  It will mark the 6th of 8 bargaining units that have come to a final resolution.

Talks are continuing with the biggest union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), on a four year contract. The union has been working without a new deal for 18 months and leadership has been authorized to call a strike.

PSSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall says they’ve made good progress in each of the last two sessions with APSCUF.  There are more talks scheduled for Wednesday and he hopes they will make progress toward a settlement.

Union officials also report progress, but say significant divides remain on issues including health care and class size.

While the system is still negotiating with faculty, it has reached a tentative agreement with athletic coaches.  That deal has not yet been ratified.

Faculty Offers Binding Arbitration as Talks with State System Continue

The two sides have been talking for over two years and now the faculty union at the 14 state owned universities has made a new offer.  The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties is offering binding arbitration to the State System of Higher Education and asking for an answer by October 15th.

State system spokesman Ken Marshall says they’re reviewing the offer.  But he adds they’ve been able to achieve agreements with five of their other labor unions at the bargaining table.  He says they’re hoping they can do the same with APSCUF. Additional negotiating sessions are scheduled to cover remaining issues. Talks had resumed after the union requested a pause in negotiations last month.

But APSCUF Vice President Ken Mash, a professor at East Stroudsburg University, says the concessions the state system is seeking from faculty members go well beyond those they asked of other unions.  He says they’ve been working without a contract for fourteen months and what they’re looking for is fairness.

Mash says in order to do what’s best for the students, their families and the Commonwealth; they think it would be best to get past the hurdles they’re facing by perhaps turning to a neutral arbitrator.

Mash says the state system is looking for a lot of give backs in health care and their retiree health care and wants to increase work load for part of their bargaining unit.  He says members work side by side with AFSCME employees, and they got very modest increases and very modest concessions.  He says that’s the kind of deal they think is essentially fair during these difficult times.

College Faculty Group Concerned About Higher Education Cuts in Budget

Governor Corbett’s proposed budget unveiled this week would cut funding to the 14 state-owned universities by 20%.  Faculty at the schools are disappointed the schools are targeted once again.

State System of Higher Education schools had their funding cut by 18% this year, something that’s already led to larger classes and program reviews according to Dr. Steve Hicks, President of the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties. He fears working class and middle class students and their families will feel the pinch.  Tuition already went up 7.5% this year.

Dr. Hicks is hopeful lawmakers can find a way to reduce the 20% cut proposed for next year.  He’s also disappointed that the Higher Education Advisory Panel named by the Governor does not include a state system faculty member.

Dr. Hicks says many of their students are the first generation in their families to attend college. He says they come from working class, lower middle class families who are trying to step into a different kind of life.  He says the more we reduce the state’s commitment to these institutions, the harder it is for them to make that step that we need for the Commonwealth to grow and develop.

The 14 state system schools are Bloomsburg, California, Clarion, Cheney, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.