Cal State Faculty Strike Ends Abruptly, Leaving Controversy in the Wake of Tentative AgreementBy Joy Liwanag
When the union representing approximately 29,000 faculty members, librarians, and other professionals went on strike across all 23 campuses of California's highest-enrollment four-year public university, it made national headlines. However, the week-long strike, initially intended to address key issues, concluded after just a day, leaving members and critics questioning the true effectiveness of the action.
The Tentative Agreement: Success or Setback?
The California Faculty Association (CFA) called off the strike on Monday night, claiming a victory through a Tentative Agreement with California State University (Cal State). The CFA asserted gains such as a 5 percent raise for the current academic year, improved workplace safety, and expanded parental leave. However, some union members expressed discontent, challenging the union's portrayal of success.
Contradictions in the Tentative Agreement
The Tentative Agreement's details, released by the CFA, revealed a 5 percent raise for the current academic year, falling short of the union's initial demand for a 12 percent increase. The agreement also promised 10 weeks of paid parental leave, up from six, and a minimum salary increase for the lowest-paid lecturers. Notably absent from the bullet points was the demand for increased mental health counselors, a critical need on campuses across the nation.
Social Media Criticism and Union Discord
Critics, including union members, took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Some questioned why the union settled for less than inflation, while others accused the CFA of accepting the status quo. The debate intensified as an Instagram account representing the union's San Francisco State University chapter urged members to vote down the tentative agreement, promoting a movement called "Cal State Faculty United."
Sang Hea Kil, a professor at San José State University and a member of Cal State Faculty United, criticized the rapid resolution, claiming the CFA leadership folded too quickly. Kil argued that the agreement failed on social justice principles and didn't meet the needs of faculty in the current economic landscape.
Board Members' Perspectives
Despite the criticism, members of the CFA Board of Directors defended the agreement, using terms like "transformational" and "excellent" to describe it. They acknowledged that the decision to end the strike wasn't unanimous but emphasized overwhelming support for the agreement. Meghan O'Donnell, a board member and lecturer, highlighted the creative means used to reach a 12 percent increase and praised the deal for addressing the vulnerabilities of lecturers.
Financial Realities and Negotiation Challenges
Cal State officials reiterated that a 12 percent increase was financially unrealistic and would cost the university significantly. The tentative agreement aimed to reach the 12 percent through creative means, addressing concerns about triggering renegotiations with other unions. Financial constraints, highlighted by Governor Gavin Newsom's proposed funding delay, added complexity to the negotiation process.
Conflicting Views on the Deal's Merits
While some board members deemed the tentative agreement as the best achievable outcome, critics argued that it fell far short of the union's initial demands. The absence of certain crucial provisions, coupled with concerns about a rushed resolution, left many union members divided on whether the deal truly represented a victory.
The abrupt end to the Cal State faculty strike has sparked a contentious debate within the union and among its members. As the CFA releases the full details of the Tentative Agreement, faculty members face a critical decision on whether to accept or reject the deal. The episode underscores the challenges of balancing financial constraints, diverse faculty needs, and the urgency to address systemic issues within the higher education landscape. The fallout from this strike raises questions about the effectiveness of the negotiation process and the importance of transparent communication between union leadership and its members.