HARRISBURG — Faculty at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities started holding strike authorization votes Monday amid contentious negotiations for a new contract.
Balloting will be held through Wednesday for union teachers and coaches at schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. If passed, the vote empowers union chapter presidents at each campus to call a strike; 10 of the 14 must approve a walkout.
Members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties have been working without a contract since June 2011.
State officials seek cost savings for the system, which suffered a 19 percent budget cut in 2011-12. Any new deal must be "fair to everyone, especially to our students and their families who currently provide nearly two-thirds of the revenue needed to operate the universities," the system said in a statement Friday.
The two sides disagree on issues including compensation for temporary instructors, health care benefits and incentive pay for online education.
During bargaining in Harrisburg last Friday, state negotiators withdrew a proposal for a 35 percent salary cut for temporary, or adjunct, faculty. Instead, they proposed no change in full-time adjunct salaries while freezing the pay of part-time temporary faculty for the life of the contract.
Union president Steve Hicks said in a letter to faculty Monday that the new proposal remains unacceptable, and urged members to vote in favor of strike authorization.
"Creating a two-tier pay system for temporary faculty is to open the door to exploitation and abuse," Hicks wrote. "It tears at the heart of our solidarity."
The union represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches. A union committee was set to meet Friday in Harrisburg to count ballots from the strike votes.
There has never been a faculty strike in the state system, and the two sides have not broken off talks. Another negotiating session is set for Dec. 11.
About 120,000 students attend the state universities in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Classes for the fall semester are set to end Dec. 7, with finals beginning on Dec. 10.