The first faculty strike in the state system’s 33-year history lasted three days and sent shockwaves across Pennsylvania, with more than 100,000 students and several thousand faculty members affected.
While Shippensburg University students were enjoying fall break, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) were hard at work.
For five days before the strike, the two sides sat at the negotiating table making last-ditch efforts to avoid a job action. APSCUF members voted in early September to authorize a strike. Oct. 19 was finally picked as the day to strike if negotiations failed.
Union members were working under an expired contract for more than 15 months before a tentative agreement was made on Oct. 21. The two sides talked with each other for nearly two years about the contract, which lasts for about three years.
PASSHE proposed a cost-saving healthcare plan. In exchange, faculty were to receive raises over the next three years. APSCUF said it did not accept the proposal because it was unfair to adjunct faculty since it would give them smaller raises than full-time faculty.
APSCUF was also opposed to state system proposals allowing graduate students to teach selective classes, details about transferring faculty members across departments and a number of other issues that PASSHE eventually conceded on.
The details of the tentative contract reached last week will not be shared for a few more days, according to APSCUF.
PASSHE’s last known proposals were issued to APSCUF on the eve of the strike date as a final offer. Union members stayed up until their 5 a.m. deadline, looking for an alternative to strike.
When time ran out, union leaders made the call to go on strike and dozens of faculty members arrived at university entrances across SU and the rest of the state system. Assigned runners went to and from picket lines with coffee and the latest news from its office.
Some SU students awoke to hear chanting from their residence halls. When classes were scheduled to start at 8 a.m., many students already found out the faculty were striking and did not show up to class.
Hundreds of students at SU and around the state system stood in solidarity with faculty over the next couple of days. They had rallies and marches on their campuses, and some groups, such as Kappa Sigma fraternity, gave their professors food and water.
From about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. faculty picketed five entrances to SU, demanding the state system provide a fair contract.
On the second day, canopies were erected and faculty marched in even lines, chanting and cheering as honking cars passed.
On the third day, APSCUF SU spokesperson Kim Garris announced union President Kenneth Mash was in meetings trying to end the strike. PASSHE media relations Kenn Marshal said the state system was also working toward that end.
At about 4 p.m. on Friday APSCUF announced via Twitter the two sides agreed to a tentative deal and faculty were to immediately leave the picket lines.
For more than an hour afterward, union members cheered and hugged each other as they packed up their picket signs and supplies. While some faculty members went home to rest, others celebrated the end of the strike by going to the University Grille and the SU women’s volleyball game.
SU President George “Jody” Harpster said he recognized the strike was stressful, but the “Ship family” remains strong.
“We’re certainly pleased the last week is over,” Harspter said. “I appreciate everyone’s cooperation.”