A month from now, Cal State Fullerton students might find their campus and classes a little quieter than usual. Professors, lecturers and other faculty members at the college have promised to go out on a five-day strike if their demands for better pay go unmet, part of a planned, system-wide Cal State blackout on April 13-15 and 18-19 poised to be the largest higher education strike in the nation’s history. A trustees meeting in Long Beach last Tuesday failed to bring the two sides any closer to resolution in contract negotiations that have gone on for over a year now. The California Faculty Association (CFA) is demanding a 5 percent salary increase. Chancellor Timothy P. White has remained steadfast in only offering a 2 percent increase. Should the strike come, plans are in place to keep the Cal State Fullerton and other campuses around the state open.
Knowing that the struggle of the adjuncts is real, the Weekly spoke with Dr. Michele Barr, a full-time lecturer in the department of kinesiology and Cal State Fullerton CFA chapter president before the professors hit the picket line.
OC Weekly: Negotiations have been ongoing for a year. Why have they stalled to the point where a historic strike might be necessary?
Dr. Michele Barr: When we negotiate our contract with the Chancellor, we negotiate three years at a time. Last year was the first year we had any increase in salary since 2008. Honestly, it was a small amount, a maximum of 3 percent. The Chancellor wanted to offer us 2 percent this year and 2 percent next year. What he didn’t offer this year is SSI, which is basically a service increase where after so many units in service, salary goes up by 2.65 percent. We did not agree to the 2 percent and no service increase for this year or the 2 percent for next year. We have been in the process now for quite awhile. It stalled because the Chancellor’s not moving at all and we’re not moving at all. What we are requesting is a 5 percent general increase and a 2.65 percent service increase.
Why is a five percent increase needed? And what can you say about the union claim that most faculty make around $38,000 a year?
We should be asking for more, like 10 percent, if you look at what other educators are making. If you look at the UCs, the community colleges and then look at us, among those three, we’re the lowest paid. Honestly, most people are asking how come we’re not going for 10 or 12 percent. When you have 26,000 faculty, 5 percent is more than reasonable. If you look CSU-wide, about 60 percent of the faculty are actually part-time lecturers and they make less than tenure track faculty. We do have associate and full professors who do make quite a bit more than that, but they’re not the majority. The $38,000 number doesn’t really represent most of those lectures. That number is actually higher than it should be because if we have full professors who’ve been here 30 years, they are making a good salary. It’s really funky to talk about salary because the number doesn’t do justice to what’s really going on.
How do these issues directly impact the campus of Cal State Fullerton?
I’ve been here 23 years. The truth is, I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. That is not the case for many of my junior colleagues, whether they are lecturers or even tenure track faculty. But I’m looking at the bigger picture. This salary increase, and I’m not even calling it a raise because we’re still going to be behind in terms of inflation, is not so much about the percentage. When we are looking for new faculty, I see more searches fail than I ever have in my history here. Typically, it comes down to one thing: the salary it too low. We’ve got younger faculty or even lecturers who were hired in 2008 or after, they’ve really had no increase. Many of them come in with debt from their doctoral programs. We’re losing many of our young, really talented scholars. Where does that leave the CSU in the next five or ten years? I’m fearful of what the future of the CSU looks like.
How do your fellow Cal State Fullerton faculty members feel about the impending strike?
We have over 2,000 faculty on this campus and the majority of them are in favor of the strike. Sixty-two percent of our faculty are actual voting members of our union and when we took a strike vote, it was 94.4. percent in favor. Now when we came back later with a five-day, some people got nervous. The reality is, the closer it gets, more and more people are in favor of doing this. The truth is, we don’t feel like a one-day strike would have done anything. The Chancellor, quite frankly, has been so unresponsive. We don’t think rolling strikes would have done anything. We felt we had to do something bigger so that’s why we went with the CSU-wide five day walkout. In general, faculty are in favor of it. They are signing strike pledges that they will withhold their labor. They are signing up for days and shifts for picketing. All and all, it tells me they are strongly in favor of this.
If the five-day strike comes and goes and there’s still no response from the Chancellor, what comes next?
Part of the reason we went with a five day is because we wanted to leave ourselves somewhere else to go. We actually have plans for not only a phase 2 but a phase 3 if that’s necessary. At this time, we’re not making those public. But we absolutely are prepared for phase 2 and, if necessary, phase 3 and each one is bigger than the previous. That’s part of why we didn’t start off with a statewide no end walkout. We wanted to hopefully settle it without too much disruption. We are hopeful that once the Chancellor sees we are serious about this with this five-day walkout and if we pull off the biggest strike in the history of higher education in this country, I’m pretty sure he’s going to take notice. But we also wanted to leave ourselves somewhere to go and we have done that.