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CSU faculty to begin a week of strikes, demanding 12% pay raise this year

Elissa Miolene, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

Faculty at the California State University are gearing up to strike at four campuses this week, the latest move in a months-long fight for higher pay at the nation’s largest public university system.

While the California Faculty Association (CFA) — the union representing 29,000 faculty at the 23-campus institution — has called for a 12% salary increase this year, officials at California State have offered faculty a 15% increase over three years, instead, for an annual raise of 5% each year.

That agreement, union leaders say, limits faculty members’ ability to negotiate until 2026-2027.

“This week of rolling strikes is about our faculty gearing up on short notice to be able to strike,” said Brad Erickson, the president of CFA’s San Francisco chapter. “With more time, we have even greater capacity to bring the system to a standstill.”

The first of four one-day strikes is slated to begin on the Cal Poly Pomona campus on Monday. On Tuesday, faculty are scheduled to strike at San Francisco State; on Wednesday and Thursday, strikes are expected to occur at CSU Los Angeles and Sacramento State, respectively.

During that time, educators will not grade, answer work emails, or perform any other type of faculty work, including teaching, according to CFA — instead, classes will be cancelled, and faculty will be picketing and rallying on campus.

A smaller union of trade workers, representing just over 1,000 employed by the Cal State system, will also join the strikes as they continue their own bargaining process with university management.

That union — alongside CFA — has argued that Cal State can afford to pay its employees more, given its recent tuition hikes of 6% per year for the next five years.

Mildred Garcia, California State’s chancellor, earns $795,000 a year in annual compensation, according to recent reporting by EdSource — more than 66% higher than what her predecessor earned in 2020. At the same time, faculty members on the lowest rungs of CSU’s salary brackets are earning around $55,000 a year.

 

“These are some of the lowest paid educators in the state of California, and it’s intolerable,” said Erickson. “This creates a lot of precarity, not just for the individuals but for the institutions, too.”

A financial analysis commissioned by the faculty union found that the university system was “in a very strong financial position,” supported by both a high level of cash reserves and annual operating surpluses. But earlier this fall, CSU communications manager Hazel Kelly denied that claim, and said the university system has $733 million in reserves earmarked for “operating expenses for economic uncertainty,” a figure that equates to 33 days of operation across the 23 campuses.

Throughout the past year, Cal State has also been forced to grapple with its finances in more ways than one: in May, a working group found the institution had only enough money to pay for about 85% of its costs, and that Cal State was facing a $1.5 billion funding gap after a decade of flat tuition. Those findings led the university’s trustees to vote 9-0 for an annual 6% tuition increase, one that affects 460,000 students over the next five years.

In a press release published Friday, Cal State said that CFA’s 12% salary demand would cost $380 million in new recurring spending, totaling $150 million more than the funding increase the institution received from the state of California for all its operations during the 2023-24 academic year.

“It is very challenging for a factfinder to make recommendations when the parties have such radically different views of the employer’s financial situation,” stated a fact-finding report published on Friday by a third-party labor negotiator. “CFA argues that its 12% proposal should be easily absorbed given CSU’s finances, and CSU argues that even its 5% proposal will create economic pain on campuses.”

That fact-finding report ultimately recommended a raise somewhere in between: a 7% salary increase this year, with additional raises for some of the lowest-paid staff. Still, the factfinder conceded that this figure would place staff’s cumulative three-year increase below inflation.

As of Sunday afternoon, neither CFA nor CSU had agreed to the fact-finder’s salary recommendation, and each side said additional negotiations were needed. Erickson said that if that doesn’t happen — and if the union’s demands were not met — CFA members were prepared to organize more strikes in the coming spring semester, and this first week on the picket line could be “just a taste of what’s to come.”

“CSU is prepared to get back to the bargaining table with CFA at any time to reach a fiscally sustainable agreement that provides salary increases for our valued faculty,” said Leora Freedman, vice chancellor for human resources at Cal State, in a recent press release. “We recognize the need to increase compensation and are committed to doing so, but our financial commitments must be fiscally sustainable.”


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