- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Contract negotiations appeared to be at an impasse Tuesday night between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and its faculty union as more than 100,000 students at 14 state universities awaited word on whether the school year might be disrupted by a strike.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties set a strike for 5 a.m. Wednesday if no agreement could be reached. The union represents more than 5,000 faculty and coaches across the state, and a walkout would likely halt classes mid-semester.

The union said Tuesday night on its Facebook page that the state had handed it its last best offer and was done negotiating. The union said it was reviewing the state’s offer and remained at the bargaining table, “ready to talk.” It said a final decision about a strike would come at 4:59 a.m. Wednesday.

“The governor urged us to keep on negotiating. He was very clear about that. He personally spoke to both sides and urged us to settle this,” said APSCUF President Kenneth M. Mash. “I find it shocking that Chancellor Frank Brogan would spit in the governor’s eye like that. Through all of this, the governor has been a strong advocate for the students.”

The two sides have sparred over a number of contractual changes. Chief among those changes were proposed raises to be offered over three years and health care contributions.

The system said its latest proposal would provide raises to all permanent and temporary faculty and a healthcare package identical to what other State System employees have.

“These are difficult times for our universities. If APSCUF won’t agree to share more of the costs for their own healthcare - like everyone else has - it will threaten our ability to keep tuition affordable for students,” said State System spokesman Kenn Marshall. “We have made significant progress since Friday, and were hopeful we could get to an agreement by now. It is unfortunate - especially for our students - that we have gotten to this point.”

As part of the new offer, the state is proposing permanent faculty receive raises in each of the three remaining contract years. Those raises would range from 7.25 percent to 17.25 percent for individual faculty members.

In an effort to reach an agreement, the state said it withdrew several proposals including one that would have required full-time temporary faculty to teach an additional class each semester.

Members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union have previously voted to authorize a strike but faculty members have never walked out during the state system’s 34-year history.

The uncertainty left students to question the impact a strike might have on grades, mid-year graduations and financial aid.

The state said it would try to keep classes going, and reminded students that teachers are not required to strike.

But Shawn Davis, an assistant professor of parks and recreation at Slippery Rock University, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that faculty members are ready.

“I’m really hoping they can come to an agreement, but we are prepared to strike if that’s what it takes,” Davis said at a rally on campus.

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

The last faculty contract expired June 30, 2015.

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