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The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) continues discussing contract negotiations with APSCUF, an employee bargaining unit which determines annual salary by job classification.

In August, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) created a new plan when it comes to contracts.

The new plan, which is interest-based bargaining, is different than the traditional contract proposals. 

In interest-based bargaining, the strategy focuses on a collaboration of different ideas, rather than one contract set in stone. 

The difference between interest-based bargaining and contract proposals is all in what is discussed and how. 

In the past in the contract negotiations with APSCUF and PASSHE, each side “identified which of the 40 or more articles would be discussed, and a largely win-lose approach was used to hammer out the agreement,” said Dr. Nadene L’Amoreaux, a professor at IUP’s department of counseling.

This can lead to negative communication, with both sides fighting to win and a compromise implemented. 

The last time, ASPCUF and PASSHE ran into problems when negotiating. When no agreement was made, faculty across the 14 state-owned universities took to the picket lines. 

The interest-based bargaining was agreed upon for this round, and both parties seek to find a win-win solution, rather than debating their arguments with the other. 

The focus is on each party’s interests, rather than contract proposals that are either won or lost.

According to L’Amoreaux, collective bargaining agreements are renegotiated every three to four years for each of the many unions represented on campus.

“Changes can include issues pertaining to working conditions, the grievance process, salary schedules, benefits and more,” she said. “Most of the time this process occurs without students even realizing that the negotiating process is taking place; however, with the contract between APSCUF and PASSHE, the fact that there is an expired contract tends to become more public.”

When it comes to faculty members, their concerns are about salaries, and students are constantly worried about tuition changes, for better or worse. 

With the change comes different adjustments to salaries.

“Faculty salaries and benefits are part of the negotiating discussions, and we do expect to see adjustments in salaries over the course of the contract,” L’Amoreaux said. “In the past, PASSHE has blamed personnel costs for the increasing cost of tuition; however, the reality is that the university-wide personnel costs comprise a big chunk of the overall budget.”

When it comes to jobs, someone is more likely to take a better-paying job with good working conditions than a lower-paying job with difficult working conditions and environment. 

Competitive salaries need to be in place.

“The reason tuition has increased over time is not because of faculty salaries,” L’Amoreaux said. “It is because the Pennsylvania state legislature has drastically reduced funding for state system colleges and universities. We all need to work together to restore funding at a level that supports our students.”

With the contracts and negotiations, once a contract is ratified, it has a term of four years, after which the process begins again.

Not having a settled contract can have a negative effect on the campus in terms of morale, productivity and other related activities. 

Having such negativity can pit people together by picking a side, having an opinion and wanting their side to win. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a settled contract.

Everyone’s reactions and feelings towards this change can vary.

“I have a couple of reactions,” L’Amoreaux said. “The first being with our new chancellor, Dan Greenstein. With him comes a significant change in our working relationship with administration. Interest-based bargaining is a slower process because it can take time to genuinely understand the other party’s perspective, goals and positions in order to get the ‘win-win’ solution.”

To her, the discussions feel more productive and meaningful even when they shift to difficult topics, she said, but there is still hesitation is such a big decision.

“The lag is not a stall tactic, as far as I can see, but a thoughtful and reflective approach to healing past, conflicted relationships and establishing a strong positive working relationship. At the same time, because negative rhetoric and stall tactics have been so ingrained in our past negotiation processes, I find myself cautiously hopeful that we will be able to get a ‘win-win’ solution, given that our contract expired at the end of June, and we are still in the process of negotiating the new contract.”

Negotiations are still being discussed between PASSHE and APSCUF, and a positive outcome is hoped by all.

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