HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Professors at 14 state universities went on strike Wednesday, disrupting classes midsemester for more than 100,000 students after contract negotiations hit an impasse.
Members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties went on strike at 5 a.m. because no agreement was reached with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The union represents more than 5,000 faculty and coaches across the state.
This is the first strike in the system’s 34-year history. State-related schools — Penn State, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University — are not affected.
The state said students should report to their scheduled classes unless the university indicates otherwise.
“We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phones will be on, should the State System decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students,” union president Kenneth Mash said.
The union includes faculty from Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.
Coaches, however, haven’t set a strike date. They can choose to strike with faculty, strike independently or not at all.
The Pennsylvania state system is one of the nation’s largest public university systems. State funding for the system, at $444 million this year, is about the same as it was 17 years ago, even as full-time enrollment has risen more than 10 percent.
Around the state, faculty members walked picket lines, chanting and carrying red signs declaring “On Strike.”
At West Chester University, outside Philadelphia, dozens of professors, students and supporters marched outside the school.
Picketers, many of whom were up most of the night watching strike developments, carried signs and chanted, “Two, four, six, eight — why don’t you negotiate?”
Victoria Tischio, a full-time tenured English professor and the university’s picket chairwoman, said some 500 of the university’s about 950 professors had signed up for the walkout. About 77 percent of the university’s professors are full-time union members, she said.
“I got my education from state schools and what motivates me to be here is that my students are every bit as worth that same quality education,” Tischio said. “(State system negotiators) say this is a money issue, but we’re really out here for work rules and for students.”
The school’s approximately 17, 000 students received an email from administrators reminding them the university will not close.
Spokeswoman Nancy Gainer said students are expected to attend classes because not all professors will strike. Some professors who walked out also provided assignments in advance, she said.
Emily Keller, a sophomore accounting student from Royersford, said she hopes the strike won’t last too long.
“It’s nice to have a few free days off going into homecoming, and I’m sure everybody feels that way, but I personally pay for college so I’m a little concerned,” Keller said.
State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said they are disappointed the union decided to strike because they felt they made significant progress overnight toward a settlement.
“We will do everything we can to get this settled, but it takes two. We need cooperation,” he said.
No meetings are scheduled, he said.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said that he was “extremely disappointed” that the two sides failed to reach an agreement and urged both sides to return to the bargaining table.
The state school system said overnight its latest proposal would provide raises to all permanent and temporary faculty members and a health care package identical to what other system employees have.
In an effort to reach an agreement, the state said it withdrew several proposals including one that would have required full-time temporary faculty to teach an additional class each semester. However, some professors at West Chester University said Wednesday that is still a sticking point for them because they fear it could be revived.
The last faculty contract expired June 30, 2015.