Faculty members converge for 1-day strike at CSUDH
Press Telegram

By Rob Kuznia Staff Writer

Donning red T-shirts, chanting slogans and pumping picket signs, hundreds of faculty members converged Thursday at California State University, Dominguez Hills, in Carson to stage the first union strike in the history of the CSU system.

The one-day strike – which also occurred at one other campus, East Bay in Hayward – was a response to stalled pay negotiations, and led to myriad class cancellations at both campuses.

“I hope this will persuade the chancellor to stop pursuing such a destructive relationship with the staff and students,” said David Bradfield, campus union president near the main campus’
The strikers were protesting how the CSU system is being financially operated, including tuition fee increases, teacher pay cuts and chancellor and president pay increases.

Organizers sought to tie Thursday’s event with larger issues. Leaders from other unions and local politicians delivered oratories that adopted much of the language used by the widespread Occupy Wall Street movement.

“The economic crisis that is crushing California is not caused by the students, it’s not caused by the faculty members, it’s not caused by the workers,” shouted Josh Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, into a microphone before a cheering crowd. “It’s caused by the bankers and the investment brokers on Wall Street, and yet we’re having to pay!”

Despite the heated rhetoric, the scene had a festive feel, complete with a professional jazz quintet and the honking horns of cars and trucks passing by on Victoria Street.

By midmorning, university officials were unsure how many classes had been canceled.

“We’re telling students to come to class,” said college spokeswoman Amy Bentley-Smith. “If the professor doesn’t arrive within 10 or 15 minutes of class starting, they can leave.”

Officials said professors who cancel their classes could be docked one day’s pay. But perhaps because it is only a one-day strike, the administration at Dominguez Hills chose not to use condemnatory language.

In fact, an official statement issued by Dominguez Hills President Mildred Garcia sounded semi-supportive.

“CSU Dominguez Hills has always prided itself as a marketplace of ideas and encourages dialogue on the important issues of the day,” she said. “The one-day strike … is another reminder of the devastating impact that reductions in state support have had on higher education and that the key to our economic recovery is an educated workforce.”

Many students arrived on campus only to find their classrooms empty.

“It’s very inconvenient,” said Torrance resident Vicki Neesby, a graduate student in social work. “I came all the way down here for one class – no one notified us.”

Frank Guerrero, a business student, found that both of his classes had been canceled, but said he supports the strike.

“From what they are saying, they are charging us more money and the guys up there (in the administration) are getting rich,” he said.

Specifically, in 2007 the sides reached agreement on a three-year contract. But due to the economic uncertainty that was beginning to percolate, the contract included a reopener clause on compensation issues if state funding thresholds were not met. The administration exercised the option in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

Administration officials say the faculty systemwide has received a 2 percent raise, totaling about $59 million from those two years, but is seeking the additional $20 million that they would have earned under the original pact. By comparison, they say, managers and administrators have received a total of just $5 million in pay hikes.

Administrators say the raise is untenable in a year when the university system has already taken a $650 million hit – an amount that could grow to $750 million if the state orders midyear cuts based on lower-than-expected tax revenues.

The labor camp has a different take on the figures, saying the salary of Chancellor Charles Reed has increased 66 percent since his arrival in 1998, and the pay of campus presidents has risen 71 percent in that time, compared to 27 percent among faculty. Student tuition, they add, has shot up 263 percent since 1998.

On Wednesday, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a 9 percent tuition hike for the 2012-13 school year, despite a vocal student protest that forced the panel to cast its vote in a separate room.

Tuition will increase by $498, meaning undergraduate student fees will go from $5,472 in 2011-12 to $5,970 for 2012-13. With campus-specific fees added in, the total cost for undergraduate students will be just more than $7,000 for the full year.

The increase will be on top of a 12 percent tuition hike that took effect this school year, and a 9 percent increase imposed in 2010.