Fresno State faces faculty strike

Faculty and other employees on 23 CSU campuses may walk off the job over salary, working conditions

California State University, Fresno signage located on Shaw Ave. and Cedar Ave. (Kenny Goodman)
California State University, Fresno signage located on Shaw Ave. and Cedar Ave. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published January 12, 2024  • 
10:00 am

FRESNO – After failing to reach a comprehensive agreement with the union representing 29,000 faculty members, librarians, counselors and other school employees, the nation’s largest public university is bracing for a strike that will commence Jan. 22 at its 23 campuses across the state – including Fresno State University.

The California State University (CSU) and the California Faculty Association (CFA) have been at loggerheads over base salary, class size, manageable workloads, mental health services for students, parental leave, accessible lactation and milk storage spaces, gender-inclusive restrooms and changing rooms, and safety provisions for faculty interacting with campus police.

The two sides met Jan. 8 but failed to reach agreement on most of the talking points. CSU did agree to a 5% across-the-board salary increase for employees beginning Jan. 31, but CFA was asking for a 12% general increase.

In a statement, CFA President Charles Toombs said, “CSU management has never taken seriously our proposals for desperately needed equity transformation for CSU students, faculty and staff, including raising base salary for our lowest paid, struggling faculty, manageable workloads for more student engagement, more mental health services for students, limits to police power, and humane and adequate parental leave.”

Following the failed negotiations, Leora Freedman, CSU vice chancellor for human resources, regarding the 5% salary increase, said, in a press release, “With this action, we will ensure that well-deserved raises get to our faculty members as soon as possible. We have been in the bargaining process for eight months and CFA has shown no movement, leaving us no other options.”

Freedman added, “Our overriding responsibility is to manage a systemwide budget in a fiscally sustainable manner.”

According to the CSU press release, the 5% salary increase is consistent with agreements the university has with five of its labor unions.

STRIKE

Last November, 95% of CFA’s voting members voted in favor of a walkout to protest the same demands currently on the negotiating table. On Dec. 7, the union staged one-day strikes at Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Los Angeles, San Francisco State and Sacramento State.

Regarding the prospect of a prolonged strike, Hazel J. Kelly, manager of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, CSU Chancellor’s Office, confirmed the CSU will not cancel classes in an email to the Times. 

“However, individual faculty members may decide to strike that week which could result in individual classes being canceled. Students should check with each of their professors as to whether they intend to hold class during that time,” Kelly said.

Both sides indicated that a strike is all but inevitable. In its release, CSU said that unless CFA changes its bargaining position, the 5% increase concludes bargaining on the contract reopener. CSU said the university is ready to move forward with successor bargaining on the full contract.

“(CSU) Management’s imposition gives us no other option but to continue to move forward with our plan for a systemwide strike in coalition with Teamsters 2010 members,” Toombs said. “The systemwide strike on all 23 campuses over Jan. 22-26 will demonstrate to chancellor Mildred Garcia that she must do right by her faculty, staff and students of the CSU.”

Another indication that CFA did not believe the latest round of negotiations would be fruitful was an announcement from the union on Dec. 23, 2023, which said its members would strike.

In the announcement, Meghan O’Donnell, CFA Associate Vice President of Lecturers, North, and CSU Monterey Bay lecturer, said, “The CSU runs on union labor and they need the dedicated employees and students for the system to function.”

Toombs added, “Our members refuse to give in to what they know is beneath their worth. Unlike management, we are unwilling to be complicit in the harming of our colleagues, students, and staff. Our commitment to one another is unshakeable.”

Jan. 22 falls on the third day of the spring semester at Fresno State and the first day of instruction at Sacramento State.

WHOPPING RESERVES

After the two sides walked away from the negotiating table, CFA officials noted that the university has ‘flush’ reserve accounts. In a Nov. 2, 2023 interview with the Times, CSU Stanislaus accounting professor Steven Filling – who serves as the political action legislation chair for CFA and is the faculty rights lead for his university – said CSU’s claim that the university lacks the money to pay a 12% across-the-board salary increase is untrue.

Filling told the Times, “The analysis our independent financial person came up with, (which) is based on CSU’s audited financial statements, is CSU is sitting on $8.12 billion in reserves.” Filling added, “Our analysis indicates that every year, CSU is taking in literally hundreds of millions of dollars more than what it is spending.”

Amy Bentley-Smith, director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, CSU Chancellor’s Office, in an Jan. 11 email to the Times, said the CFA’s independent analysis does not acknowledge that CSU reserves and designated balances are heavily restricted in how they can be utilized. 

“The CSU’s actual operating fund reserves were $2.5 billion as of June 2023,” she said. “Of this, one-time reserves for economic uncertainty total only $766 million, which is equivalent to 34 days of operations for the entire CSU system.” 

Bently-Smith went on to explain the rest of the reserves, which comes out to $1.7 billion, are designated for short-term obligations – for example, outstanding encumbrances and financial aid obligations – such as facility improvements and catastrophic events.

“One-time funds, such as reserves, cannot sustainably cover ongoing/recurring expenses like compensation,” Bently-Smith said.

Darren Fraser
Reporter