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Cal State Faculty Union Votes to Approve Proposed Contract

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a student walks in front of a San Francisco State University sign on campus
The Cal State faculty union voted this week to approve a tentative contract agreement, but SF State union leaders remain vocal about their opposition to the deal. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The faculty union for the California State University system has voted to approve a proposed contract (PDF), ending months of intense negotiations that led to the first statewide strike in the union’s history.

The tentative agreement awards the California Faculty Association’s members a 5% raise retroactive to last July and another equal raise in the upcoming school year, on the condition that the state’s funding doesn’t decrease. An additional 2.65% salary increase for certain eligible faculty would also take effect next year.

More on the Negotiations

Union members will also see an increase in the amount of paid parental leave and in the minimum salary for faculty.

Seventy-six percent of voting members chose to approve the deal, according to union officials.

“We’ve been told that it was the largest turnout rate that we’ve had on a tentative agreement. So that tells us that our faculty were very much engaged in this process,” said CFA Secretary Diane Blaire, though she did not have specific figures to share.

The vote marks the end of a months-long contentious negotiating period, in which the union accused the university of not taking their demands seriously and of walking out of one of the final bargaining sessions. University officials, for their part, suggested the union’s demands were unrealistic and would force massive budget cuts across the statewide system.

Even after a months-long mediation, the union still called for a five-day strike in January meant to shut down all 23 campuses, and the university announced it would not bargain again unless the union made further concessions.

Yet, after the first day of the planned five-day strike, the two sides announced they had reached a tentative agreement and faculty members could return to work.

But some members were dissatisfied by the strike’s unceremonious end after just one day. Dissenting faculty pointed out that the agreed-upon salary increases are notably lower than the single year 12% raise they had been demanding.

“The fact is, despite there being some benefits and positive aspects of this tentative agreement, it still maintains the status quo of disinvestment in higher education,” said Brad Erickson, a union chapter president at San Francisco State University, where faculty leaders urged a no vote on the deal. “It still is a pay cut relative to inflation, which is why we were fighting for 12%.”

People form a human chain spelling the word 'No' on a green lawn.
Faculty, students and CFA union members form a ‘No’ in The Quad at San Francisco State University on Jan. 25, 2024, to urge a ‘no’ vote on the tentative deal that ended the week’s CSU strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Critics were also troubled by language tying next year’s raise to state funding as California faces a massive budget deficit and the governor looks for places to make cuts.

“It’s unfortunate, because I feel like we really had the momentum going for a [week-long] strike,” said Robin Dodds, an associate professor of special education at CSULA. “They took the deal and canceled [the strike] without consulting everyone after a day of screaming in the rain and talking about ‘5% won’t pay rent.’ And then they accepted a 5% offer.”

Two members of a union committee dedicated to working on bargaining strategies even resigned from the committee within days of the deal being reached, including the committee chair.

In a letter advocating for a rejection of the deal, leaders of the San Francisco State University union chapter wrote, “We believe that the [tentative agreement] fails to address the economic and social-justice demands that we went on strike for in December and January. It provides paltry salary gains that amount to a cut, not a raise, relative to inflation; includes only aspirational language regarding counselor-to-student ratio, gender-inclusive restrooms and equipped lactation spaces.”

Since SFSU released its statement at least three other union chapters at CSU Los Angeles, CSU San Bernardino (PDF) and CSU Long Beach (PDF) have issued similar statements.

While the union initially pushed for language that said the university system would make every effort to maintain a ratio of one full-time counselor equivalent for every 1,000 to 1,500 students, the final agreement said campuses should “endeavor to reach this goal,” with plans to discuss those efforts in 2026.

Dodds said counseling resources are particularly important to her as a mother of two college-aged sons who have experienced mental health crises before.

“They want to go to Cal State L.A., they’re going to community college right now. But Cal State L.A. only has one counselor for every about 4,000 students. And this deal does nothing to ensure that that counselor ratio gets improved. All it has is some aspirational language that they’ll talk about it again in 2026. And it’s a crisis on our campus,” Dodds said.

Kevin Wehr, a professor of sociology at Sacramento State University and chair of the union’s bargaining team, said he still considers the new counseling ratio goal to be a victory.

“There’s no doubt that that language reflects a compromise, and compromises are always difficult to wrap your arms around,” Wehr said. “This language is brand new in the contract. We have never had management agree in any way, shape or form to put these ratios into the contract, we have tried. This is, I think, our third time bargaining around this issue.”

Wehr emphasized that bargaining is meant to be, “an iterative process. You don’t get everything you want the first time through. You get something in, and then you build upon it.”

But Wehr also conceded that he could not recall seeing such strong opposition to a tentative agreement in his more than 20 years with the union.

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Although negotiations are over for now, some faculty members have begun spreading a petition to change the union’s bylaws so that bargaining team members are directly elected by the union’s members, rather than appointed by the union’s president. The petition had more than 1,000 signatures at time of publication.

“There’s been a plan from the start that, win or lose, up or down on the tentative agreement, that the ‘vote no’ campaign is already becoming the ‘democratize the CFA’ campaign,” said Erickson, the chapter president SF State. “I really see this as a positive opportunity for members to become more engaged and to look at the way that some of the procedures that are more opaque or less participatory, that we democratize them rather than try to destroy our own union.”

“We’re completely devoted to increasing member participation, increasing transparency in the process, so I think it is something that we are interested in looking into and considering,” said Blaire, the union secretary.

The last remaining step is for the university officials to vote on the deal, which will likely occur during a multi-day Board of Trustees meeting in late March, according to CSU officials.

However, the relative peace is unlikely to last long. The contract expires next summer, meaning the union will likely begin internal conversations about bargaining priorities for the next contract as soon as this fall.

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