Faculty union: Health care's big in negotiations with PASSHE

By - Last modified: January 7, 2013 at 10:32 AM

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Health care remains a major issue in negotiations with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the union that represents faculty at its 14 universities reported after a six-hour session Friday.

The Associations of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties reported "several long breaks as the APSCUF team waited for the Chancellor's representatives to present counter proposals" but said there was some important progress: "Most notably PASSHE took its proposal for a temporary faculty salary freeze off the table."

However, an APSCUF blog post said significant differences remain between the parties on distance education and active and retiree health care.

"PASSHE has not yet negotiated a health care package design with any of its employees not in the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund, and it falls to APSCUF to negotiate this benefit," the post said.

In a separate post, APSCUF criticized PASSHE's characterizations of the health care issue, noting that some of PASSHE's other unions tied their health care package to management health care and "since managers get the health care APSCUF negotiates, the other unions have, de facto, tied their health care benefits to our negotiation."

According to APSCUF, faculty already pay the highest percentage of premium of any union in the state, and PASSHE pays an annual per-faculty-member amount for health care that currently totals $13,572.84, with PASSHE paying less if it has not reached the maximum number of claims.

PASSHE's latest word on the issue was on Jan. 3, when spokesman Kenn Marshall released a statement including the following:

"Increases in healthcare costs for both active and retired employees, combined with rapidly rising pension costs, are placing unsustainable financial pressure on the universities. In this regard, PASSHE is no different from the federal or state governments, or most other organizations, all of which have identified increasing costs in these areas as urgent problems that must be addressed. We have no alternative. We must agree to new approaches before these costs overwhelm the System. PASSHE's 14 universities are facing incredible and ever-increasing competition; business as usual is simply unacceptable."

Negotiations are scheduled to continue on Jan. 11, and the APSCUF blog said, "Meanwhile, the faculty continue to prepare for collective action should it be necessary to obtain a fair contract." In the fall, members authorized their negotiators to call a strike if they deem it necessary.

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