This story has been updated, Dec. 4.
Barring a breakthrough in negotiations, the California State University faculty began one-day strikes at four campuses as they fight for 12% wage hikes this academic year plus other key concessions — increases that the system of nearly 460,000 students says it cannot afford.
California Faculty Association has begun the first of four one-day strikes, starting at Cal Poly Pomona.
Tuesday through Thursday the association is planning one-day strikes at Cal State campuses in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco. The four campuses with walkouts this week together enroll about 105,000 students. The union vows to escalate the work stoppages early next year if university leaders don’t meet their demands.
The action dashes hopes of a labor peace between the union of 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors, and coaches on one end and management of the nation’s largest public four-year university system on the other. And it would only be the beginning: If Cal State leadership doesn’t meet faculty demands, union leadership is promising more labor unrest in 2024.
“The decision was made to start on the smaller side…to allow us to give some space to escalate,” said Kevin Wehr, bargaining team chair for the California Faculty Association and a professor at Sacramento State. “We don’t feel the need necessarily to go from zero to 60.”
The planned dates and campuses are:
- Dec. 4, Cal Poly Pomona
- Dec. 5, San Francisco State
- Dec. 6, CSU Los Angeles
- Dec. 7, Sacramento State
The four schools are among the largest in the system and combined enroll around 105,000 students. The labor walkouts are meant to signal to Cal State leadership that the union is capable of quickly organizing its members.
“We’re going to demonstrate to them that we can shut down any campus we want with only a couple of weeks’ notice,” Wehr said, who added the union doesn’t plan to stage any other work stoppages in December.
Cal State officials will hold a virtual press conference Friday to discuss the state of play between the system and the California Faculty Association. Friday will also mark the end of a state labor mediation process that began in August. By then a fact-finding report, written by a third-party labor negotiator, should become public, shedding more light on why the two sides are at loggerheads.
Last month 95% of faculty members who voted approved a resolution granting union leaders the ability to call for a strike. The union refused to say what percentage of its membership took part in that vote. In response, a Cal State spokesperson told CalMatters then that it “remains committed to the collective bargaining process and reaching a negotiated agreement with the (faculty union) as we have done with five of our other employee unions in recent weeks.”
In the past month, Cal State has come to agreements with five other unions representing around 30,000 non-academic staff. The labor deals ensured that Cal State wouldn’t contend with all its unionized workers striking, which would have been calamitous for the system. A smaller union of about 1,100 workers in the trades went on strike for one day this month.
Cal State lacks revenue
Cal State has grappled with what it says are insufficient revenues to properly educate its students. In May, officials said the system needs to generate at least $1.5 billion more annually to provide students the academic, cultural and supportive services they need.
That report triggered a multi-month discussion about upping revenue, culminating with the system’s board of trustees approving tuition hikes of 6% for each of the next five years, starting next fall. But even those hikes aren’t enough to fully fund the system, Cal State officials said. The faculty union and student groups bitterly opposed those hikes. The union also released an accounting study last month that argued Cal State can tap more of its reserves to cover academic expenses, such as faculty pay.
The impasse over finances and tuition played out in the same year Cal State’s new chancellor received a nearly $800,000 base salary — 66% more than what a predecessor earned in 2020. Last year several campus presidents received raises of as much as 29% after a system report said many were underpaid.
In its most recent offer on Monday, Cal State leaders proposed to the faculty union 5% raises this year and two years of subsequent 5% raises between 2024-25 and 2025-26. On paper that adds up to 15% across three years, above the 12% faculty seek in 2023-24.
‘Lack of trust’
But those future hikes are contingent on the system receiving funding that Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised Cal State for the next three years as part of his five-year compact of 5% annual increases. These are promised, but not guaranteed, jumps in state support in exchange for improvements in graduation rates and other academic advances. Newsom and the Legislature approved the 5% increases in state aid to Cal State — and the University of California — in each of the last two years, despite facing a multi-billion deficit in June.
Still, the union doesn’t want to take a deal that is at the mercy of a state budget negotiation process between the governor and lawmakers. Labor leaders feel spurned already; in 2022, they expected Cal State to receive enough state support for faculty to get 4% raises. Instead, the system lawmakers and the governor provided the system enough to approve 3% salary bumps.
“There’s a definite lack of trust with any budget contingency language now,” Wehr said.
The union is also hesitant to accept any multi-year deal now because of a technicality in its contract with Cal State. Right now, the two sides are able to negotiate on just the salary portion of the collective bargaining agreement and several benefits provisions. The full contract expires June 30, 2024, meaning that the union cannot negotiate on other details that will only become fair game to discuss next summer.
Agreeing to a multi-year contract now overrides that expiration date and locks into place any matter the two sides haven’t yet discussed. Wehr said the union would in effect need to agree to a whole new contract now to approve a full multi-year deal.
“Management must think that faculty can’t do math,” a faculty union letter to its members said. “Management claims their latest salary offer as ‘15 percent over three years’ (even they acknowledge that is not guaranteed). We are demanding a 12-percent General Salary Increase for just 2023-24 to keep pace with rising costs of living. We will fight for more when the full contract opens next year. The three-year nature of management’s proposal would mean that we cannot bargain over other workplace issues for three years!”
Beyond the wage increases of 12% for all faculty, the union seeks to lift pay for the lowest-paid instructors, expand parental leave, provide lactation rooms for new parents and more.
Cal State would need to give the faculty union a deal that matches, or comes close, to its demands to end the wave of strikes, Wehr said.” If they come at us with seven (percent), I don’t think faculty would accept that,” he said. “It would have to be 12% or very close to it.”