CFA Rally Foreshadows Possible Strikes
SF State faculty union demonstrates on campus after latest contract negotiation roadblock.
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    The California Faculty Association is considering a state-wide strike but for now they held an informational picket on campus at noon yesterday after contract negotiations stalled again.

    A number of issues hold up the contract agreement between the university system's Board of Regents and the California Faculty Association, including a salary increase that union officials said is deceiving. The union, which has considered striking if it doesn't get a contract it deems fair, counts 800 of SF State's 1,500 faculty among its members.

    "They claim that they are giving a 24.5 percent increase over three years and that's just not true. They use a lot of smoke and mirrors," said Mitch Turitz, who was president of the school's CFA Chapter for five years.

    The picketing on Malcom X Plaza featured Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, who introduced legislation requiring the executive boards of UC and CSU to meet and discuss compensation in the open. The event is a part of a statewide labor movement that has been rolling through Cal State's 23 campuses to inform faculty, students and the public about negotiations and a possible strike.

    Deeba Uddin, 19 and a freshman in business, said she was excused from class early to attend the picket and would support the strike if necessary.

    “I don’t think it would be the best thing, but if it helps in any way, I would be willing to do it,” Uddin said.

    On Dec. 18, after 18 months of negotiations, an independent mediator from the Public Employment Relations Board declared the talks at an impasse, leaving CFA officials feeling helpless. The sides agreed on healthcare and retirement issues, but no progress was made on the issue of class load and the administration's salary offer has not changed since July 2006.

    "We haven't reached a contract and they look very much determined not to reach one," John Travis, president of the CFA, which represents 23,000 faculty statewide.

    A fact-finder, appointed Jan. 29, has exactly one month to come up with an alternative offer. If it's rejected, the Board of Regent will most likely impose it's so-called "Last, Best and Final Offer."

    "We are for the first time intending to seek a strike vote," said Travis. He added that the rolling pickets were scheduled early in the year out of the urgent need to “send the signal that we are at a historical point in the relationship with Chancellor Reed's administration."

    For now, the pickets serve a purely informational purpose.

    In order to gauge the amount of interest in a strike, the union has been circulating a pledge card to its faculty members. The latest tally read 470 signatures, 72 percent of CFA members.

    "We certainly do not want a strike," wrote Chapter President Linda Ellis, the head of SF State union, in a Jan. 24 e-mail to faculty. "But we need to know your opinion so that we can pressure the CSU administration to come back to the bargaining table for a fair contract."

    The faculty union has been reaching out for support from all sides. Turitz said it's in the students' best interest to support faculty.

    "Our working conditions are the student's learning conditions," he said. "Our larger load is making it difficult for students. It essentially means that they are getting lower education while paying more in student fees."

    The union focused much of its effort at the largest campuses, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco State, where temporary workers were hired to help strengthen the campaign.

    The Chancellor's Office remains optimistic. Spokesperson Paul Browning refused to talk about the possibility of the faculty striking, suggesting that doing so would send a negative message.

    "Even though we have yet to reach an agreement with the California Faculty
    Association, the CSU has eight other bargaining units that we have reached agreements with," Browning said.

    CSU Employees Union President Russell Kilday-Hicks, whose group represents 1,300 non-faculty SF State employees, brought his own issues to the picket.

    “We can’t trust the so-called trustees,” Kilday-Hicks said. "A healthy CSU means a healthy California. Don’t give up on us just because we have poor leadership."

    He said the union had to "change the rules of bargaining,” in order to end a year of negotiations with a Jan. 12, 2007 agreement. He said they had to be “more effective," holding rallies, pleading with individual trustees and inviting bargaining members on campus to meet workers.

    The union also carries a growing mistrust of Chancellor Charles Reed and the perception that he has grown too powerful.

    "The CSU is supposed to be run by the board of trustees. In fact, the chancellor has been telling the trustees how to vote. He has control over the board," according to former CFA president Turitz.

    Yee, who earned his master's and taught at SF State, appeared as part of his campaign to clean up the practices of those who lead California's higher education system.

    “For too long we don’t know why high executives are getting astronomical salaries and benefits that we only dream of,” Yee told the crowd.

    An earlier version of the bill he authored, AB 775, failed to pass in the last Senate session. Yee included the CSU regents in the new bill, SB 190, after the regents' recent pay raise.

    “SB 190 is going provide you, hopefully, with a CSU and UC system that is finally accountable. By golly, we are going to get it out!” he said.

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    PHOTO
    Carolyn Schroeder | staff photographer
    The California Faculty Association pickets in the Malcolm X Plaza and marches up to the administration building to demand pay increases.

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