The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has been in continuous negotiations with its seven labor unions for nearly two years. To date, it has reached settlements with five of those unions, representing the university health center nurses and physicians; campus police and security officers; and clerical and maintenance staffs.
While salary increases are included in each of those agreements, the added costs required to pay for those increases have largely been offset by agreed-to savings in benefits and changes to work rules.
PASSHE leadership is seeking the same pattern in its efforts to reach new agreements with its other two labor unions, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents about 6,500 faculty and coaches at the 14 state-owned universities; and the State College and University Professional Association, which represents the campus admissions, financial aid, residence life and career services officers. The overriding goal is ensuring the long-term viability of the PASSHE universities. The greatest challenges to achieving that goal are the continuing growth in health care and retirement costs and inflexible work rules.
As was noted in materials provided to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees earlier this year, PASSHE’s long-term obligation to pay for annuitant healthcare coverage currently stands in excess of $792 million. In the absence of any changes in current plans, it is likely that by 2020 the number of retirees being covered by the PASSHE administered health plan will exceed the number of active employees in the plan. Employer pension costs are projected to increase by as much as $80 million annually within four years.
“We must make changes in the way we operate and in our cost structure,” said Gary Dent, PASSHE vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations. “We have had success working collaboratively with several of our labor unions, which have recognized the extraordinary fiscal challenges facing us and have partnered with us in working toward solutions on behalf of our students.
“We have been negotiating with APSCUF for two years. We are committed to finding an agreement with our faculty and coaches that also is fair and affordable for everyone involved. It is also important that the final agreement meets the needs of the highly competitive higher education marketplace. We are hopeful that APSCUF will join us in being responsive and innovative as we work toward those goals.”
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth, with nearly 120,000 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.