Cal State faculty just got a 5% raise. Here’s why they’re upset.

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California State University officials are unilaterally raising faculty pay by 5%, rejecting demands for much higher increases and ending contract negotiations with the faculty union, a move that has ramped up labor strife as a systemwide, weeklong walkout approaches.

The pay hike effective Jan. 31 is far from the 12% increase for the 2023-24 academic year sought by the California Faculty Assn., which represents professors, lecturers, counselors, librarians and coaches. University officials said Tuesday the union’s salary demands were not financially viable and would have resulted in layoffs and other cuts.

“With this action, we will ensure that well-deserved raises get to our faculty members as soon as possible,” Leora Freedman, vice chancellor for human resources, said in a statement. “We have been in the bargaining process for eight months and the CFA has shown no movement, leaving us no other option.”

Charles Toombs, president of the California Faculty Assn., lambasted the university’s decision to end contract talks.

“CSU management expressed nothing but disdain for faculty,” he said in a statement. “CSU management has never taken seriously our proposals for desperately needed equity transformation for CSU students, faculty, and staff.”

The divide over pay had reached an apex in recent weeks, with faculty staging one-day strikes at four campuses in early December to voice dissatisfaction with the university system’s pay proposals. A weeklong strike is planned at all 23 of the system’s campuses starting Jan. 22, which marks the beginning of the spring semester for most students.

The CSU and faculty union were engaged in so-called reopener bargaining, in which parts of the existing contract can be negotiated before it expires in June. Bargaining sessions were scheduled for this week, but university leaders imposed their final offer during a session Tuesday, according to the union.

Toombs said the union, which represents 29,000 workers, had planned to “bargain in good faith” and explore a solution that could avert a strike. Instead, he said, they were met with “disrespect from management.”

“Management’s imposition gives us no other option but to continue to move forward with our plan for a systemwide strike,” he said.

Before Tuesday’s session, the sides had reached an impasse, meaning they could not reach an agreement on their own. That triggered a report from an independent fact -finder, who recommended the sides agree to a 7% increase.

Having exhausted the negotiation process without an agreement, the system was permitted to impose a final offer during bargaining. Faculty members may strike to protest the system’s decision, though the union has not yet said if they will extend the walkout planned for this month beyond a week.

Throughout negotiations, union leaders have called on the CSU to draw on money from its reserves to pay for increases, accusing the system of “hoarding billions of dollars in reserves instead of investing in faculty and staff.” An Eastern Michigan University professor commissioned by the union to conduct a financial analysis of the CSU found the system is “in very strong financial condition” with “a high level of reserves.”

But university officials have disputed the union’s findings, contending that they need to maintain the reserves to pay for short-term or emergency expenses. They also said some of the money the union says is part of the university’s reserves cannot be used on salaries.

“We are committed to paying fair, competitive salaries and benefits for our hard-working faculty members, who are delivering instruction to our students every day and are the cornerstone of our university system,” Freedman said. “But we must also operate within our means to protect the long-term success and stability of the university, our students and our faculty.”

Freedman noted the 5% raise aligns with increases given to unions representing other CSU workers.

In addition to across-the-board increases, the union had also sought to raise the salary floor for its lowest-paid workers to $64,360 from $54,360. During the one-day strikes last month, lecturers said they live in financial precarity, with many having to teach classes at multiple campuses or take on debt to pay for basic living expenses.

The faculty association also sought other improvements, including caps on class sizes, an expansion of paid parental leave to a full semester, accessible lactation rooms, and gender-inclusive restrooms and changing rooms.

The CSU’s move is unlikely to stem disagreements over pay. With the current contract set to expire in June, both sides will probably begin negotiations over the next contract in the coming weeks or months.

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