Barring a last-minute deal, faculty members across the California State University system will stage a five-day strike starting Monday, leaving hundreds of thousands of students adrift just as the spring semester begins.
The planned strike through Friday is the latest in a series of labor actions from lecturers, librarians, coaches, social workers and other staff at the nation’s largest public university, which includes San Jose State, San Francisco State, and Cal State East Bay in Hayward.
“We have been in the bargaining process for eight months and the California Faculty Association has shown no movement, leaving us no other option” but to end contract negotiations, Leora Freedman, the CSU’s vice chancellor for human resources, said in a statement.
On Friday, trade workers from Teamsters Local 2010, reached a separate tentative agreement with CSU to avert their own strike next week. The deal reportedly includes guaranteed raises each year of the contract, the return of a salary-step system and maintained pension and medical benefits.
But the California Faculty Association, which represents 29,000 staff at Cal State, was still moving forward as of Saturday with its strike plans, which members approved in late October after the CSU stood firm on its offer of 5% salary increases for faculty starting Jan. 31, effectively ending contract negotiations.
The labor action follows months of talks between the union and the university, with faculty members calling for a 12% pay bump, a higher floor for the lowest-paid staff, and expanded parental leave, among other demands. CFA’s contract is set to expire in June.
“As CSU management refuses to listen, we have no alternative but to disrupt the business of the CSU to get their attention,” said Meghan O’Donnell, an associate vice president at the CFA.
In December, faculty at four CSU campuses walked out of the classroom for one day each. This month’s strike is slated to be much longer: It’s anticipated that the majority of faculty at all 23 campuses will refrain from teaching, grading or answering work emails for an entire week.
The strike could impact the more than 460,000 students who attend CSUs, resulting in canceled classes and athletic events during the first week of the spring semester at most CSU campuses. It’s unknown how many faculty are planning to join the strike, or if some classes will remain open.
At San Jose State, university officials issued a campus-wide email informing students that some lessons may be disrupted next week and called on students to report faculty who canceled class.
Estevan Guzman, a sophomore at SJSU and an Associated Students board member, said there is confusion over whether courses are fully canceled or if some will remain in session.
“There is concern on what’s going to be happening as a result of that missed week regarding syllabus week, If things are going to need to be pushed back,” Guzman said.
Recently, the Associated Students of San Jose State passed a resolution in solidarity with striking faculty. They also held a Q&A session about the strike for all students.
At Cal State East Bay, student reactions to the strike are mixed. While some students are looking forward to extra days off from class, others are concerned about losing an entire week of learning amid rising tuition costs.
“The strike is only the cherry on top. Right now, our tuition is increasing by 6% for the next five years. Our classes got cut in the spring semester … and enrollment is down,” said Nolan Calara, a junior at the Hayward campus.
In September, university trustees voted 15-5 for an annual 6% tuition increase that starts this fall and will affect hundreds of thousands of CSU students over the next five years. The tuition hikes comes after a working group found the university system was facing a funding gap of $1.5 billion, and only had enough money to pay for about 85% of its costs.
Calara, who’s also president of Associated Students Inc. at Cal State East Bay, plans to join faculty members on the picket lines. He and other ASI leaders released a statement in support of better working conditions for faculty and encouraged students to take part in the strike.
“As a student, education is really important to me. I believe that the faculty that are educating me and teaching me deserve a lot more salary than they’re getting right now,” Calara said.
Ray Buyco, a senior lecturer at San Jose State University, said he is used to working multiple jobs to make ends meet. The history teacher and professional musician has been running from lectures to shows for the past 12 years, and while he enjoys the work, the number of gigs it takes to pay the bills is wearing on him.
Over the course of his CSU career, Buyco said he has made an average of $50,000 per year.
“If you’re resourceful and you don’t mind working 70 to 80 hours a week or whatever it takes, then you can do it. But you know, the one job isn’t enough,” Buyco said.
In their list of demands, the CFA wants to lift the salary floor for full-time faculty, like Buyco, from $54,360 to $64,360, and raise all staff wages by 12%.
But granting this large of a raise to the university’s faculty, CSU officials said, would result in $380 million of new spending each year. Still, the union believes Cal State has the money to pay faculty more —while the university says they’re facing a massive funding gap.
The university system offered faculty a 15% increase over three years, one broken into 5% annual chunks. But that agreement, union leaders say, would limit the faculty members’ ability to negotiate until 2026-2027, and put them at-risk of losing the annual raises if state funding ran out.
“No matter what, we need a contract where raises are guaranteed,” Jenny Lederer, an associate professor of linguistics at SF State, said at a one-day strike in December. “Nobody is going to vote for 5% this year, and unknown percentages in years two and three.”
(Staff writer Katie Lauer contributed to this report.)