|Harrisburg – Members of the State College and University Professional Association (SCUPA) have “overwhelmingly” ratified a new contract with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). SCUPA represents approximately 600 admissions, financial aid, residence life and other student support services officers on the 14 PASSHE campuses.|
“The members have spoken and overwhelmingly ratified the tentative agreement with PASSHE,” SCUPA President Frances C. Cortez Funk said today. “Our state negotiating team, SCUPA leadership and work with PSEA in representing our members' collective voice all have been validated through the ratification process.”
PASSHE Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Labor Relations Gary Dent expressed his appreciation to the members of SCUPA for their strong support for the new agreement, which, he said, “is fair to both parties.”
The tentative agreement will now go to the PASSHE Board of Governors for its approval.
Meanwhile, negotiations between PASSHE and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the union that represents State System university faculty, resumed today, with the two sides continuing to make progress toward a settlement.
“While today’s bargaining session produced good progress on some key issues and PASSHE is hopeful of reaching a final agreement with APSCUF very soon, there are still several important items that remain unresolved,” Dent said.
Dent also responded to several inaccurate statements recently made by APSCUF leadership in relation to the continuing negotiations.
“First and foremost, all of our stakeholders should know that PASSHE is committed to achieving a new collective bargaining agreement with APSCUF that is fair, that is affordable and that positions the System to continue to provide a quality education for years to come,” he said. “As with the other agreements with our unions, it must include savings to offset a new compensation package. A key area for savings which remains unresolved is health care for active employees.
PASSHE spends nearly $75 million a year on healthcare for its faculty. If nothing is done to change PASSHE’s current healthcare plan, costs are projected to increase by about $7.5 million next year.
PASSHE pays more than $15,000 annually for family coverage under the healthcare plan it administers for active employees, compared to the $10,140 the state pays for coverage under the Commonwealth’s plan. PASSHE has proposed changes to the plan that would more closely align it with the state-run plan, which provides healthcare coverage for 80,000 state employees, including the Governor and his cabinet.
“In addition to producing cost savings, the revisions PASSHE has proposed would ensure that all State System employees – faculty, health center nurses, campus police and security officers, clerical and maintenance staff, athletic coaches, managers, administrators and executives – would receive essentially the same level of benefits, a concept APSCUF has continued to oppose,” Dent said.
A related – and still unresolved issue – is the rapidly escalating cost of providing healthcare benefits for eligible retirees. PASSHE presented more detailed information on the transition to a defined contribution plan in an effort to address the systemwide $1.4 billion outstanding financial obligation, which threatens the system’s sustainability. The proposal would not impact any current retirees or current employees; it would be applied only to persons hired by the State System after July 1, 2013.
The issue is similar to the Commonwealth’s pension liability problem. As the governor’s budget secretary said recently: “Absent meaningful structural pension reform, the state’s General Fund budget is on a very predictable path that will force a choice between either fully funding pension obligations or making cuts to the core functions of government.”
“For PASSHE, the choice will be between agreement on annuitant health care reform or an inability to offer new programs and to continue to improve and modernize its educational offerings to assure students succeed at its universities,” Dent said.
Dent also expressed his concern about recent statements by APSCUF officials regarding a potential strike should an agreement not be reached. “No one would be served by such action, particularly our 115,000 students and their families,” he said.
“The simple fact is that we must resolve these issues quickly and fairly so that we can get back to focusing on how best to continuously enhance the quality of our universities’ academic programs as well as the educational experience of our students,” said Dent.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with about 115,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study. About 500,000 PASSHE alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.