No contract talks underway in 2nd day of faculty strikes

Pennsylvania's higher education system said it had no official contract talks with its union Thursday, but said negotiators still were looking for a way forward during the second day of strikes by faculty members across 14 state universities.

Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said its most recent offer to union leadership was "considerably different" from previous proposals and that its negotiators continue to want a fair settlement.

"Even though there are no formal negotiating sessions underway, the State System is working hard to find a path forward," Marshall said.

Marshall did not provide specifics on any steps the state's negotiators are taking, but said the system circulated a list of "myth busters" in an attempt to debunk untrue claims.

Union President Ken Mash stood outside the system chancellor's office building Thursday afternoon in Harrisburg to push for a resumption of contract talks.

"If they want to come out right now and negotiate, we're willing to go ahead and do that," Mash said. "But, I don't want to be totally unfair either, because they do have my cellphone number, so if they want to call later on and say that they're ready to negotiate, we're ready to do that too."

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said professors will remain off the job until a new contract is reached. On Tuesday, the state system gave the union what it said was its final offer, and then withdrew from bargaining.

The union represents more than 5,000 faculty and coaches from Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities of Pennsylvania.

Pickets across the state said they were not striking solely for health benefits or salary, but to preserve the quality of education for students by supporting every level of faculty.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday he was "extremely disappointed" both sides were unable to reach agreement, saying the impasse hurts the more than 100,000 students in the system.

Those students were left in a lurch Thursday as they were told to stay in school but often found themselves without professors.

The state university system told students to show up for class unless their individual schools indicated otherwise. With no new systemwide guidance coming on Day 2 of the walkout, the schools began providing their own instructions.

Some told students to wait up to 15 minutes before leaving empty classrooms. Others said to submit work through online portals and provided lists of striking faculty and postponed classes.

Emmanuel Harris, a junior liberal studies major, said he commuted to Cheyney University Thursday for class to find all of his professors had walked out.

For now, Harris said he will check his email and social media for updates.

"I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm trying to keep my mind at ease and not get too stressed. There's already too much stress in the air," Harris said.

The Pennsylvania state system is one of the nation's largest public university systems. State funding for the system, at $444 million this year, is about the same as it was 17 years ago, even as full-time enrollment has risen more than 10 percent.

The last faculty contract expired June 30, 2015.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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