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BREAKING: CSU faculty to return to work Tuesday after union reaches tentative agreement

A banner announcing the strike with CSUMB flair hangs at the main check-in station for the picket line on the morning of Jan. 22, 2024.
Janelle Salanga
A banner announcing the strike with CSUMB flair hangs at the main check-in station for the picket line on the morning of Jan. 22, 2024.

UPDATE: 1/22 11:05 P.M.:

Only a day after they hit the picket lines, CSU Monterey Bay faculty are returning to classrooms on Tuesday.

The California Faculty Association announced late Monday night that it reached a tentative agreement with the CSU, ending a strike scheduled to go through the first week of spring semester classes at CSUMB and the other CSU campuses.

CFA and CSU leadership both took a celebratory tone in discussing the agreement. In a press release highlighting some of the provisions under the tentative agreement, CFA president Charles Toombs said it “makes major gains for all faculty at the CSU”, and credited it to “the collective action of so many lecturers, professors, counselors, librarians, and coaches.”

“The agreement enables the CSU to fairly compensate its valued, world-class faculty while protecting the university system's long-term financial sustainability,” said CSU chancellor Mildred García in a press release Monday.

Similarly, the CSUMB chapter of the CFA called the tentative agreement “great” in an announcement posted to Instagram.

The tentative agreement, if approved by members, would not give the faculty the 12% raise for the 2023-24 school year they have been demanding since May. Instead, it echoes the CSU offer made Jan. 11, with a 5% raise for the current school year. The agreement also provides for another 5% raise for the 2024-25 year contingent on state funding to the CSU and a 2.65% salary increase across positions next school year.

It would also raise the salary floor for the two lowest pay scales for instructional faculty by $3,000 this fiscal year, with another $3,000 raise for the lowest-paid faculty after July 1.

Improved access to gender-neutral bathrooms, union representation in meetings with police and expanded parental leave — from six weeks to ten weeks — are among the non-monetary gains for CFA members in the tentative agreement.

If ratified, the agreement would also delay bargaining on the full contract and extend the current CFA contract to June 30, 2025.

Members will vote on the contract in the coming weeks. No date is set yet.

ORIGINAL STORY: CSU-wide strike comes to CSU Monterey Bay as spring semester kicks off

The first week of the CSU Monterey Bay spring semester is seeing students returning to campus — and red-shirted, picketing faculty at the main CSUMB entrances.

Over 300 faculty members are taking part in a systemwide strike across the 23 California State University campuses. Their union, the California Faculty Association, represents more than 29,000 professors, lecturers, coaches, counselors and librarians across the CSU. While not every faculty member is withholding labor, the five-day strike is historic: It’s the largest university faculty strike in U.S. history and the CFA’s first systemwide strike since it was established in 1983.

Trades workers represented by Teamsters were also set to strike before they negotiated a tentative agreement covering 22 of 23 campuses — trades workers at CSU Maritime are represented by a separate union — late last week.

The labor action follows a rolling four-day strike in December at campuses up and down the state: Cal Poly Pomona, San Francisco State, Cal State University Los Angeles and Sacramento State. The CFA announced the legal strike after the release of an independent fact-finder’s report analyzing the disputes between the two parties, whose negotiations have stalled.

“It's not, you know, a couple of people are upset — this has been going on for a long time,” said Dr. Axil Cricchio, a lecturer in the CSUMB psychology department. “We didn't have any other choice but to move to strike, which, of course, is part of the bargaining process.”

At CSUMB, 95% of voting faculty members supported the strike — the highest level of support at any CSU campus.

Faculty say they’ll be picketing each day this week, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., whether there’s sunshine, drizzle or downpour.

“Right now, it's all rain,” said Rob Weisskirch, who has been CSUMB faculty for 23 years. “But you can see how many faculty are dedicated to, really, the cause of raising the awareness of what the chancellor's office is doing by walking away from faculty … I have never seen this level of activism.”

Vivian Price, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at CSU Dominguez Hills, made the trek up to CSUMB to show solidarity on Jan. 22, 2024, and holds up a sign she made for the occasion.
Janelle Salanga
Vivian Price, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at CSU Dominguez Hills, made the trek up to CSUMB to show solidarity on Jan. 22, 2024, and holds up a sign she made for the occasion.

“We’re out here fighting for a fair contract,” echoed Meghan O’Donnell, the university CFA chapter co-president. “We’ve been bargaining with the chancellor since last May.”

Salary negotiations at standstill

Salary remains the main point of contention between the union and university system. While they’ve reached consensus on other benefits like expanded parental leave, the union has remained steadfast in its ask for a 12% general salary increase to keep pace with inflation. It also seeks to raise the salary floor for the lowest-paid lecturers.

The CSU says its final offer is a 5% salary increase each year over the next three years, along with a contractual provision that would increase parking fees.

“Many faculty have two or three jobs just to afford, you know, rent or mortgages around this area, and that also takes away from the teaching and learning aspect,” Cricchio said. “It seems really insulting that they would … say to us in that same email, that they were gonna give us a 5% raise [when we’re asking for 12%] and then raise parking.”

The university system has maintained that the CSU can’t afford to meet the union’s salary demands, which it said in a press release Monday would cost $380 million this year.

It’s also facing a budget deficit of $1.5 billion, which provided the rationale for the board of trustees to approve tuition increases of 6% each year over the next five years last fall. Also of fiscal concern is California Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to defer state funding to the CSU to next year.

During a press conference last week, the system’s vice chancellor of human resources, Leora Freeman, said “we would have to make severe cuts to programs” if the CSU met faculty demands.

“We would have to lay off employees,” she said. “This would jeopardize our educational mission and cause hardship to many employees.”

CSU leaders said they look forward to returning to the bargaining table with faculty members if the latter changed their salary ask — otherwise, the 5% increase represents the end of salary negotiations.

But Weisskirch, who is also the chair of the CSUMB Department of Human Development and Family Science department, maintains that the union’s 12% salary increase demand is fair, given inflation and its impact on cost of living.

“We're trying to raise the floor of the salary ranges of the lowest paid so they can earn a decent wage and live in our communities,” he said.

In Monterey County, median rent for an apartment is around $2,500.

The lowest paid faculty members make $54,000 annually, and CSU will not be compensating workers on strike this week. Meanwhile, the CSU’s new chancellor, Mildred Garcia, has a compensation package totaling almost $1 million a year. A CalMatters analysis showed system leaders’ salaries have grown at a faster pace and higher rate than those of professors and lecturers over the past 15 years.

Weisskirch pointed to the faculty’s hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves: “We do have the ability to fill in the gaps of the salary wage in order to bring people a decent living. And it’s not as if faculty are not doing their jobs — we here at Cal State Monterey Bay, we are one of the only CSUs that has made consistent progress to meet our obligation made to the legislature about graduating students in a timely fashion.”

The CSU says its reserves are one-time funds necessary for emergencies.

“Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions”

“Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions” was emblazoned on the signs carried by picketing workers and supportive community members.

CSUMB faculty hoist signs with the slogan at the picket line
Janelle Salanga
CSUMB faculty hoist signs with the slogan at the picket line.

It’s an oft-repeated refrain for faculty, with the CFA also opposing the tuition increases this past fall.

Cricchio, the psychology lecturer, said that last semester, in the wake of the raised costs, he talked with his students about education being a right, not a privilege.

“Everyone should be able to afford education, and the CSU, because it’s partially state-funded, should also be involved in the education of the people that live in its state,” he said. “When students struggle, they struggle in the classroom, and that creates a situation for us that’s very stressful.”

For him, the faculty fight is also students’ fight.

“We’re asking for human rights that are related to students as well, right? Because the students are our future,” he said. “Without the students, none of us could be here.”

Nathaly Huazo started off her second semester at CSUMB at the picket line Monday. She’s a recent transfer from Hartnell College and a humanities and communications major.

“In my first semester, I had a really good time here — I think the professors are amazing, and what they teach us is very important … I don’t think it’s fair that teachers aren’t getting the benefits of their paid job,” she said. “Where would we [students] be right now if they weren’t here, honestly? That’s all I have to say.”

Even if the union and CSU reach agreement on salary provisions, they still have bargaining to do over the full CFA contract, which expires at the end of June.

Janelle Salanga is a reporter for KAZU. Prior to joining the station, they covered Sacramento communities and helped start the SacramenKnow newsletter at CapRadio.