Strike Across Pa. Gives Perspective on City Teachers’ Contract

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by Eldon Graham

DR. KENNETH M. MASH, APSCUF President; stood his ground with his fellow faculty members to win a new contract for the 14 State Schools.

DR. KENNETH M. MASH, APSCUF President; stood his ground with his fellow faculty members to win a new contract for the 14 State Schools.

When educators are fed up, they let it be known. That is what happened last week when the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Schools began a strike that lasted three days – and ended with them receiving a new contract for the first time in almost two years.

The State System universities involved were Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania.

The universities also operate branch campuses in Oil City (Clarion), Freeport and Punxsutawney (IUP), and Clearfield (Lock Haven), and offer classes and programs at several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.

West Chester University, Cheyney University and a few other schools have offices and classrooms in Center City at 8th & Market Streets, where protests in the city took place.

Up until the day the strike began, faculty had been working without a contract for 477 days. Tired of being undervalued, they thought they deserved more. This was the first strike in the history of PASSHE.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties released a statement saying, “Until the State System negotiates a contract, APSCUF believes is fair to students and to faculty, faculty members will be on strike.”

After three days of picketing statewide, the strike ended with the picket lines emptying out and the classrooms filling up. “Our primary goals were to preserve quality education for our students, protect our adjuncts from exploitation, and make sure the varieties of faculty work are respected,” APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash said. “We achieved every single one of those goals, and the faculty were willing to take less than every other bargaining unit in order to preserve those goals. We are relieved to have an agreement that preserves quality public higher education in Pennsylvania and allows our members to get back into the classroom where they belong.”
The situation for the state schools is not unlike the situation teachers are facing in the City of Brotherly Love. Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have been without a contract for 1,153 days with no scheduled negotiations in sight.

In the midst of the PASSHE strike, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers announced it stood “in full solidarity with the Pennsylvania College and university faculties who are on strike for a better contract. Like the PFT’s fight to get a new contract with the school district, this strike is about more than salaries and benefits – the members of the APSCUF want a new agreement that will provide better educational environments for college students. Whether it’s the K-12 or post-secondary level, the decision to go on strike is an extremely difficult one for educators. It is an absolute last resort for professionals who would want nothing more than to teach students and be respected, supported and compensated for the work they do.”

Comparing the two contract situations, PFT Communications Director George Jackson said, “It’s not like apples and oranges, but it’s like Granny Smiths and McIntoshes.”

However, some apples may have more blemishes on them than others.

The 14 state schools, the majority of which reside in rural and small-town Pennsylvania, have good educators and more people on the outside who are willing to go to bat for them because of their reputation. That is where their strength and negotiating power resided and why the strike ended so quickly.

National AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka stood in solidarity with APSCUF, he announced on Twitter when the strike began. Even students who were afflicted personally by the strike stood behind them because of that rapport.

MARY GRACE KELLER, a senior at Shippensburg University is relieved to have the strike over and for classes to resume.

MARYGRACE KELLER, a senior at Shippensburg University is relieved to have the strike over and for classes to resume.

MaryGrace Keller, a senior at Shippensburg University and the editor in chief of the school’s student-run newspaper, the Slate, had a big stake in the strike if it were to go on. Asked if the strike affected her, she said, “Sometimes,” but noted, “as a student journalist, I was busier than ever.”

Covering the strike, she noticed in particular how the faculty at Shippensburg had been in solidarity from the start of the strike. Keller saw that unity as commendable.

The strike did scare her, though: If it continued, she feared she might have to retake a semester, delaying her graduation. However, she never once blamed the faculty for her situation and respected their decision to strike.

Keller said she was “blown away” by the support of other students for their professors. She witnessed fraternities grilling burgers and hot dogs, and students bringing doughnuts to teachers on the picket lines.

There is no telling when a contract for Philadelphia teachers will come. But at least they can take comfort in the fact there are others in the Commonwealth who believe in standing up for teachers.

You can reach Eldon Graham at egraham@phillyrecord.com.

 

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