HARRISBURG – Guido M. Pichini, chairman of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors, commented Jan. 24 on the status of contract negotiations between the State System and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the union that represents faculty at the 14 state-owned universities. Pichini made his remarks during the board’s regular quarterly meeting.
Below is Pichini’s statement:
“As we prepare collectively for the start of the spring semester, I feel it is imperative that I address the topic most on everyone’s mind today – negotiations with our faculty union.
“First, let me reinforce the Board of Governors’ commitment to achieving a new collective bargaining agreement with APSCUF that is fair, that is affordable and that positions the State System to continue to provide a quality education to our students for years to come.
“That has been our goal throughout this unprecedented process, during which we have negotiated with all of our unions in a single cycle. That has never happened before, and it has been extremely difficult.
“However, as everyone in this room likely is aware, we have been successful in achieving that goal with all of our unions, with the exception of the APSCUF bargaining unit that represents our university faculty.
“All of the agreements that have been reached to date have included an array of cost savings – in many cases, concessions – that have helped to offset the cost of wage and salary increases included in them.
“I want to personally thank each of those unions – and, even more important, their members – for recognizing the enormous challenges facing the State System and for partnering with us to achieve this success. I truly believe the sacrifices you made were essential to the long-term stability of our universities.
“All of us must remember why we are here – our students.
“The simple fact is without the cost savings we already have achieved through the agreements we have reached to date – and the additional savings we are seeking through the negotiations with APSCUF – the ability of our universities to continue to offer quality, affordable education would be – and is – seriously threatened.
“As difficult as these negotiations have been, we have been able to come to agreement with APSCUF on a number of very important issues, including wage and salary increases for virtually all faculty this year and in each of the next two years. Usually, that is the last area of agreement.
“There are only a small number of issues that have yet to be resolved, but they are significant. We cannot continue to incur the kinds of cost increases we have been experiencing; we must have cost savings.
“Healthcare represents an area where both cost savings and greater fairness to our employees can be achieved – and have been with our other unions.
“PASSHE is seeking to more closely align its healthcare plan with the plan offered by the Commonwealth to nearly 80,000 state employees, including the Governor and his cabinet, as well as nearly one-third of all PASSHE employees.
“We have stated this goal repeatedly throughout these negotiations, and have been completely transparent on this matter, even placing a side-by-side comparison of the two plans on our public website.
“The unions representing both our university health center nurses and our campus police and security officers, whose members are covered by the PASSHE-run plan, have agreed to this concept; APSCUF continues to oppose it, without providing any response as to why this is not a reasonable request.
“The changes we have proposed not only would help ensure that virtually all PASSHE employees – including non-represented managers, administrators and executives – would receive the same level of benefits, but also would result in lower premiums for everyone in the plan.
“Most PASSHE employees covered by the plan – faculty, nurses, police and security officers and non-represented employees – pay either 15 percent or 25 percent of the total premium, depending on whether they participate in the System’s wellness plan.
“PASSHE currently pays more than $15,000 a year for family coverage under this plan, compared to $10,140 for family coverage under the Commonwealth’s plan. We must address that disparity, and we can begin to do so while ensuring greater fairness for all of our employees.
“We also must address the enormous financial obligation facing PASSHE in the area of annuitant healthcare, which, if allowed to continue unchecked, threatens the System’s viability. That obligation currently stands in excess of $1.4 billion, nearly the equivalent of PASSHE’s annual operating budget.
“The Board of Governors has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the fiscal integrity of the System. The vast majority of our costs – nearly 75 percent – are borne by our students and their families. I believe there is a limit to the amount of costs we can ask our students to absorb, especially in areas that are not directly related to the classroom.
“The change we have proposed in annuitant healthcare would begin to address these costs while providing future employees the option of choosing a defined contribution plan to cover their future healthcare expenses. Those employees – anyone hired after July 1, 2013 – still could choose the defined benefit plan, which currently is provided to all eligible retirees.
“The employee would have a choice of either plan, similar to the choice they have now when selecting a pension plan. APSCUF opposes this proposed change too, even though it would impact only future employees, and would provide those employees an additional choice while taking nothing away.
“These and other costs not related to the classroom are threatening to strip the universities of their ability to develop and offer the types of new programs students need – and even to maintain the ones they have now – and to modernize their academic facilities to ensure students receive the kinds of educational experiences necessary to assure their success.
“We must resolve these issues quickly and fairly so that we can get back to working together on what matters most – continuously enhancing the quality of education our students receive.”
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 and the Philadelphia Multi University Center in Philadelphia.