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Cal State University employees authorize strike

Group OKs series of two-day strikes if new contract not reached
By: CHRISTINA HOAG, Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — California State University employees voted overwhelmingly to authorize their union to declare a two-day strike if a new contract cannot be reached with the administration, labor leaders announced Wednesday.

Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, said 95 percent of those who participated in a two-week vote on 23 campuses approved of the strike authorization. About 70 percent of 12,501 members voted. Not all faculty are members of the association, which represents 24,000 professors, librarians, coaches and counselors.

The union has proposed "rolling" strikes, in which groups of campuses would go on strike for two days each, one group following another.

No date has been specified, but a strike likely would not occur before the fall semester as bargaining sessions continue to be held, association vice president Andy Merrifield said.

If those talks do not result in a contract, a fact-finder would be assigned by the Public Employees Relations Commission to investigate both sides and propose a resolution. If that resolution is not accepted, Chancellor Charles Reed can impose the last contract offer, and the union could issue a strike call.

California State University spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said talk of a strike is premature. Negotiations are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

"We plan on going to the table and reaching a negotiated settlement," Uhlenkamp said.

The strike authorization vote will not affect the process, he said.

Merrifield said the association is not aiming at striking. "Our hope has always been to resolve this at the bargaining table and talk of a strike will go away," he said.

The previous three-year contract expired in June 2010. Negotiations resulted in the formal declaration of an impasse last month.

Among the key issues is an administration demand for a salary freeze. Employees want a 1 percent raise and a guarantee of academic freedom.

The 400,000-student system is grappling with a $970 million loss in state funding since 2008 with further cuts expected. Administrators have raised tuition and slashed staff, and are freezing enrollment for next spring and discussing cutting programs.

But employees note that the university hired expensive consultants to conduct negotiations and is awarding 10 percent pay increases to campus presidents.

A study completed last year showed the average tenured professor earns $85,083 a year, plus $29,491 in health and welfare benefits and $25,805 in retirement benefits. Faculty receive 24 vacation days a year.