Harrisburg, PA, United States (AHN) – Teachers and students in Pennsylvania held rallies on Tuesday against drastic budget cuts even as the union representing the state’s 14 universities agreed to discuss a wage freeze to help address the deficit.
The demonstrations organized by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Facult began at Bloomsburg University mid-morning and were to continue until early evening at Millersville.
The union, which represents all 6,000 faculty members and coaches at the public universities, is protesting a plan from Gov. Tom Corbett to slash funding for the state system by 54 percent.
The cuts would reduce funding for universitites to 1983 levels and could raise tuition by 33 percent, according to the APSCUF.
States nationwide are facing record deficits and Corbett, who assumed office in January, is the latest Republican governor to propose a budget that relies on spending cuts.
He wants to close a $4 billion deficit by, among others, cutting $1 billion from K-12 public education and funds for universities by half. He has also asked university administrators, teachers and support staff to agree to a one-year salary freeze that would save the state $400 million.
The APSCUF on Monday announced it had agreed to negotiate a wage freeze so long as “similar sacrifice shared by our administrative and management counterparts.” Steve Hicks, union president, also urged lawmakers to “do their part” and restore funding for critical university programs.
Representatives from each of the state universities unanimously agreed to begin talks, despite what the union said were “years without pay increases, paying more in healthcare contributions, absorbing the loss of both temporary and regular faculty, and taking on increased workloads.’
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents more than 190,000 K-12 teachers, university staff, nurses in public health facilities, last week signaled support for the wage freeze and encouraged members to discuss the proposal with school boards.
“We must remember that students only get one chance at a quality education. Pennsylvanians must not permit this recession to rob our children of the opportunity public education provides to prepare them for a better future,” PSEA President Jim Testerman said.
However, the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 35,000 public school teachers, has not endorsed a salary freeze.
“His budget asks very little from the wealthy and corporate interests,” AFT president Ted Kirsch had said of the governor’s proosal. “Pennsylvania’s teachers understand that our budget crisis requires new fiscal strategies—but necessary sacrifices should be shared sacrifices… The energy corporations that are exploiting the rich Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits pay no taxes for the drilling that is producing huge profits.”
In his budget address on March 8, the governor had cited an increase in the average salaries of public employees from $39,037 to $45,105 over the last six years, while salaries of private sector employees remained steady at $32,239. He said since the recession, unions have successfully raised wages every year.
“Commonwealth employees contribute, on average, 3 percent of their salary toward health care benefits,” Corbett added. “The taxpayer covers the balance. In the private sector, employees with health care contribute twice as much toward the cost of health coverage.”
He announced details of his budget as labor unrest nationwide continued, particularlly in Wisconsin, where a budget bill limiting collective bargaining rights has been challenged in court, following passage by the Republican-held state legislature despite a boycott by Democrats.
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