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Teachers strike enters second day

Union members on strike at Millersville and 13 other state-owned universities

A striking Joe Sciarretta and others picket early Thursday at Millersville University. - (Photo / David O'Connor)

As a teachers strike entered its second day at state-run universities, Millersville University’s Joe Sciarretta and several others were making sure their message was heard.

Sciarretta was one of 10 people holding picket signs outside Millersville’s Student Memorial Center on Thursday, as the strike by teachers and coaches at the 14 state-owned universities continued.

Although they were small in number, the group could see support elsewhere.

Sciarretta and the others, picketing Thursday along West Frederick Street near the heart of the 8,000-student campus, heard the honks of many passing motorists early Thursday, a day after students had gathered on campus in a show of support.

Millersville’s president, John Anderson, in a good-faith gesture, even brought doughnuts to the strikers earlier Thursday morning, the group said.

Classes were being held as scheduled, but of the 500 faculty at Millersville, 462 are not in the classroom, said Jonathan Stoltzfus, a newly-hired professor of genetics and molecular biology.

Sciarretta, chairman of Millersville’s department of academic advisement and student development, had objected to a State System of Higher Education proposal, now withdrawn, to have 30 percent of teaching at the universities done by adjunct professors. It was an idea he compared to a company having 30 percent of its work done by temp employees.

But even with those ideas off the table, the teachers and State System leaders remain apart on various issues including health care and pay for adjuncts.

The teachers’ union wants better pay for adjuncts, rejecting a state proposal to put adjunct faculty members, 60 percent of whom are women, on a separate and lower salary scale, the union said.

The faculty contract expired June 30, 2015, and the state and the teachers’ union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), have been negotiating since late 2014.

This is the first strike in APSCUF’s history, its leaders said. The union represents about 5,500 faculty and coaches at the 14 state universities.

Sciarretta, carried a sign Thursday reading, “Quality Higher Ed Matters in PA,” and emphasized that the union and its members have been working in good faith.

“With previous contracts we did the same thing, so it’s about our commitment to education, to the kids, to the students,” he said. “Pay raises are always meager, and we’re always OK with that, so we can get back and do our jobs.”

The state and the faculty union had concluded five days of negotiations Tuesday without reaching agreement on a new contract, and the strike began early Wednesday morning.

“While the two sides made significant progress in the talks that began Oct. 14, including reaching tentative agreements on more than a dozen issues, including distance education, recruitment and retention of high-quality faculty and professional responsibilities of faculty outside the classroom, they were not able to reach overall agreement,” said a statement from the State System.

For its part, state leaders said the union has rejected raises to all permanent and temporary faculty and also to having the identical health care package that other system employees have.

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

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