A union representing 29,000 employees at the California State University system overwhelmingly voted to strike if necessary, signaling a willingness to walk out if labor negotiations continue to stall.
Last week, 95% of the California Faculty Association's members voted in favor of authorizing a strike, the last step before the union could formally call a strike. CFA, which represents positions like faculty and librarians, has long been critical of the system's pay and parental leave policies, among other policy concerns.
"Members sent a powerful message that low pay, growing workloads, and systemic inequities are not sustainable," the union said Tuesday. "We are willing to withhold our labor if CSU management continues to say no to investing their money where it matters – the people who are directly responsible for student learning and success."
Cal State, one of the country's largest public college systems, has 23 campuses and enrolled nearly 458,000 students in fall 2022.
If CFA were to go on strike, it could profoundly disrupt campus operations. Last year, when some 48,000 University of California workers went on higher education's largest strike in history, that system's grading, classes and finals were all interrupted.
On Monday, Cal State said it remains committed to good faith negotiations with CFA and that the union's vote does not guarantee a strike is imminent.
"Similar authorizations approved by CFA members in prior years’ negotiations ultimately did not lead to a strike because the parties were able to reach agreement," the system said. "If the CFA decides to call a strike, that does not mean all faculty will necessarily refuse to work."
How we got here
Cal State and CFA formally hit an impasse in August after reopening bargaining in May.
In part, the union has been seeking a 12% general salary increase for the current fiscal year and a semester of paid parental leave for its members. Cal State has offered a 5% pay increase and 30 days of parental leave, according to CFA.
The two sides also remain apart on public facilities. CFA wants at least one gender-inclusive restroom and lactation space in each building, while Cal State believes the current number of facilities is enough.
"We asserted that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions," Vang Vang, CFA’s treasurer and a librarian at California State University, Fresno, said in a statement Monday. "Our aspirational contract demands insist that our students deserve better, that our faculty deserve better."
Cal State's balancing act
Cal State has been juggling multiple labor negotiations this year. In October, it announced a spate of tentative agreements with several unions, including the roughly 16,000-member California State University Employees Union. CSUEU represents a range of university workers, from custodians to tech support staff.
The deal gives CSUEU’s members a 5% general salary increase in both fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025. But CSUEU’s agreement stipulated that if another union, like CFA, wins its members a bigger raise for those years, it can return to the negotiating table to push for the same thing.
Cal State’s tentative agreements with other unions include similar language.
This could pose a further challenge for Cal State, which has maintained that CFA's proposals are too expensive.
Cal State is staring down a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Last month, the system’s board of trustees approved a series of tuition hikes meant to curb the worst of the shortfall.
But the expected increase in revenue would fall $322 million short of campus needs over the next three years if employees received 5% pay bumps, officials said.
In a Monday announcement, CFA says the system has been “hoarding reserves” and paying administrative personnel more instead of investing in its employees.
The union has pointed to university presidents receiving raises upwards of 29% last year. The group has also called out the annual compensation for Cal State’s new chancellor, Mildred García. She makes a base salary of $795,000, 27.2% higher than her predecessor.
CFA members plan to rally at Cal State’s Nov. 7 board of trustees meeting, when the collective bargaining committee is set to meet.