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California Faculty Association members vote to approve tentative agreement

Around 20 CSUMB faculty, wearing red ponchos, hoist signs with the slogan at the picket line against a gray sky.
Janelle Salanga
CSUMB faculty hoist signs with the slogan at the picket line on Jan. 22, 2024.

Over 76% of voting California Faculty Association members chose to ratify their tentative agreement, the union announced Monday. The new contract will apply across all campuses, including CSU Monterey Bay.

Meghan O’Donnell, the president of the Monterey Bay chapter of the union, said the majority response on campus was “really, really supportive and positive of the 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.

She pointed to its non-monetary gains, like expanded parental leave, and a rising salary floor for the lowest and second-lowest-paid faculty across campuses.

But discrepancies between the union’s original demands and the provisions outlined in the potential agreement have sparked robust debate — and an active no vote campaign — among rank-and-file faculty members across the state who feel the contract doesn’t adequately respond to faculty needs.

Those conversations situate the strike in both the broader surge in labor action and worker organizing across all sectors, including higher education, and the changing nature of what those movements look like.

Mixed bag of reactions

“Monterey County, and of course, California, it's a hard place to live, and so we're just asking for a living wage,” CSUMB lecturer Axil Cricchio told KAZU from the picket line on Jan. 22. “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.”

The tentative agreement ended last month’s historic systemwide CSU strike just a few hours after faculty throughout the state packed up their first picket line of the week.

Over 300 CSU Monterey Bay faculty, part of the more than 29,000 staff across the CSU represented by the California Faculty Association, signed up to strike.

With the majority of faculty union members voting to ratify the tentative agreement, their current contract — which was set to expire this summer — is extended through summer 2025.

The main point of contention between the university and faculty union bargaining teams had been salary: the union had stood firm on a retroactive general salary increase of 12% for the 2023-24 school year, citing the need to keep pace with inflation from beginning negotiations in late May to the most recent proposal to the CSU before the strike.

The new contract, meanwhile, enshrines a 5% retroactive increase.

Faculty will also receive another 5% increase in July 2024, as long as base state funding to the CSU is not cut. The union’s initial demands didn’t include next-year increases, since a contract extension wasn’t on the table.

The contract also includes lower salary floor increases than the union originally asked. The CFA was asking for salary floor increases of $10,000 and $5,000 for the lowest-paid and second lowest-paid faculty retroactive for this school year, respectively. Instead, both those groups of lecturers will get a retroactive $3,000 salary floor increase, with the lowest-paid lecturers set to have their salary floor raised by another $3,000 next year.

Salary is the primary reason that some faculty across the CSU, particularly at campuses in the Bay Area and Southern California, formed a rank-and-file coalition called Cal State Faculty United. The coalition called for CFA members to vote down the agreement and continue pushing for a better contract.

On Jan. 25, roughly 250 faculty and supporters of the San Francisco State CFA chapter formed a red-shirted “NO” on the quad at the university’s Malcolm X Plaza indicating their displeasure with the deal and calling for fellow faculty members to vote down the agreement.

SFSU recently faced a number of lecturer cuts and was one of four campuses — alongside Cal Poly Pomona, Sacramento State University, and Cal State Los Angeles — that were part of the four-day CFA rolling strike last December.

Sarah Mason works at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Labor and Community. She’s also a PhD student studying labor in higher education at the university, and says no vote campaigns aren't unusual or “anti-union.”

“A tentative agreement will become a contract that workers have to live under and work under. This will be their contract,” she said. “It's really important that workers have the time and the space to deliberate and think through whether or not they think they can win more.”

The new contract reflects some improvement over the CSU’s final offer, which imposed a salary increase of 5% to take effect starting Jan. 31.

The CSU had been steadfast in their argument that CFA’s salary demands were “untenable.” In their final offer letter and at a press briefing Jan. 19, university system leaders cited Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed deferral of funds to the CSU as part of the reason that “our current offer stretches our financial ability as far as the CSU can stretch and remain financially responsible.”

A hallway on the CSU Monterey Bay campus. The photo's focus is on the door closest to the camera, where five strike signs and stickers are posted, including phrases like Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, Proud to be CFA and Strike Ready.
Janelle Salanga
A hallway in CSU Monterey Bay's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences building the CSU Monterey Bay campus.

Ajit Abraham, an 11-year CSU Monterey Bay faculty member, said he believes “the majority of members … are quite happy with this contract right now,” pointing to provisions like expanded paid leave for parents and caretakers, increased access to campus lactation spaces, union representation in conversations with police and a cap on faculty parking fee raises.

“But of course, there could always be something that we could improve,” he acknowledged. “Contracts expire … so we have to keep fighting.”

Potential change is on the horizon for the CFA in other ways, too: There’s currently a petition circulated by rank-and-file faculty union members to further democratize the CFA through allowing all union members to vote on all bargaining team members.

CFA strike part of growing, changing higher education labor movement

The CFA strike fits into the broader context of growing labor action across higher education, in California and across the country. That’s visible through the 2019-20 UC wildcat COLA (cost of living adjustment) strikes, the 2022 UC academic worker strike and the 2023 Stanford graduate student union organizing.

Before the faculty union held a four-day rolling strike in late 2023 and prepared for a five-day systemwide strike this month, it had only staged one such labor stoppage in CSU and CFA history: a one-day strike at two campuses, CSU East Bay and CSU Dominguez Hills, in 2011. It was also poised for a systemwide strike in 2014 before an eleventh-hour deal was struck.

Disagreement and debate over tentative agreements have also been common in the wake of recent labor actions. Among them, the unfair labor practice strike in 2022 at the University of California. While the tentative agreements passed, a majority of workers at three campuses — including UC Santa Cruz — voted against them.

Mason says in some cases, voting down a tentative agreement can lead to more gains later. She pointed to one instance from 2021: Academic workers on strike at Columbia University voted down a tentative agreement and approved a later iteration with several, initially missing, key union asks added back in.

All of these labor actions and conversations, she added, are happening because academic workers “do not exist in a vacuum” — they’re also affected by rising costs of living, for example.

In higher education, there are specific factors that have led to more labor actions.“The gutting of state funding … increasing the number of enrollments, decreasing the number of instructors — you could go on and on,” Mason said.

CSUMB faculty member Abraham said something he’d like to see the union address moving forward is “the emphasis on investment on management [and] administration and less on teaching and instruction” as one way “public higher education systems are increasingly taking on a more privatized view in terms of labor.”

He says he’d like to see the CFA continue to show solidarity with not just other CSU unions, but students.

“We want to make public higher education affordable, accessible and equitable,” he said.

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.

Tran, the “old guard” CSU Monterey Bay professor, has been with the university for over 27 years. She said she’s been seeing more solidarity and understanding now.

“I was looking at the strike signs from 2014,” she said, referencing the last time the CSU was poised for a systemwide strike. “The strike signs now, in 2024, I saw … broader narratives … more creativity, more student participation, so the sense of coalition, to me, is more visible in the 2024 strike.”

If the CSU trustees vote to approve the agreement during their March meeting, the CSU and faculty union bargaining teams are set to resume negotiations to discuss a new contract this fall.

CSU Monterey Bay holds the FCC license for 90.3 KAZU. The station is located on the university’s campus.

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