Faculty union authorizes strike

Robin Huiras

Faculty members from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system voted on Monday to authorize a strike.
Officials from the system, comprised of seven state colleges and universities, said the strike vote was in response to noncompetitive salaries among faculty members.
Members of the system’s faculty board cited recent salary increases among faculty at comparable institutions nationwide as motivation. Many faculty also expressed frustration at a lack of commitment to the faculty board by system officials.
“They don’t understand higher education and are jeopardizing what has been a strong post-secondary opportunity in Minnesota,” said Gael Mericle, president of the faculty organization at Mankato State University.
The University of Minnesota, which is not a part of the seven-school system, recently received state supplements to account for 6 to 8 percent faculty raises. However, system faculty members said the University’s salary increases were not a specific motivator of the strike authorization.
A date for a strike has not been determined.
“The strike vote is just one step in the process. We hope to keep negotiating,” said Barb Schlafer, a MnSCU representative.
The authorization of the vote to strike is the first ever and has been long in coming. Salary increases and protecting the futures of the institutions are the main motivators, said Dave Abel, president of Minnesota’s Inter Faculty Organization.
More than 90 percent of faculty members at the seven institutions voted for the strike. “The huge vote is an indication that faculty are concerned about the direction MnSCU wants to take,” Abel said.
In June, the faculty board proposed two-year salary increases of 6.5 percent. System officials responded with a proposed two-year salary increase of 1.5 percent, Abel said.
However, Schlafer said system officials have made a number of concessions along the way. Currently MnSCU officials are proposing a 3.7 percent increase for the first year and a 5 percent increase in the second.
The faculty union is in agreement with the initial 3.7 percent increase, but is asking for 5.9 percent in the second year. The difference is not that great, Abel said.
“But (faculty) proposals include more, such as a strong commitment to the future; (the system’s) salary increase proposal is an effort to get out of a difficult situation,” he said.
University faculty members received an 8.5 percent salary increase last June for this fiscal year. And, as part of the $36 million supplemental package the University received earlier this month from the state Legislature, the salaries will climb an additional 6 percent to 8 percent.
Marvin Marshak, the legislative liaison for the University Senate’s Faculty Consultative Committee, said faculty salaries should be based upon how an institution compares to the market.
Abel said even if the increases system faculty board members are proposing is approved, the institutions will remain in the 40th percentile as compared with institutions nationwide.
“In the long run, if we are not paying competitive salaries, we will not gain and not retain faculty,” Abel said.
Carolyn Williams, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the association supports and agrees with the faculty board’s vote.
“The national trend is really hurting higher education,” she said. “It’s an issue we’re concerned about across the country, state and the University.”