Could teachers at state universities be headed to the picket lines? It's not likely -- yet -- but they're one step closer to a strike after a vote Saturday.
At West Chester University, students may have been talking homecoming. But for faculty there -- and at Pennsylvania's 13 other state schools, including Kutztown and East Stroudsburg, the talk is about a possible strike.
"Nobody wants to go on strike," said Dan Spiegel, a Kutztown professor. "We want to do our job, but if that's what it comes down to, then we're going to have to."
Saturday, delegates to the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), representing six thousand professors and coaches, voted to authorize a strike. The full membership across the state will vote next month. The move does not mean a strike is imminent; it only gives union leadership the authorization to call one.
State faculty members have been working without a contract since June 2011. The main sticking points are health coverage for current faculty and benefits for retirees. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education said the system is just trying to get costs in line with other state employees in a tough budget situation. He added the several other employee unions have already reached deals to reduce costs.
Students have mixed feelings about a possible strike.
"If you can't go to class, you can't learn anything," said Jill Augustyniak, "but I can see how health care would be a big issue."
APSCUF also claims the state wants to bring in too many lower-paid, less qualified, temporary faculty.
"If some of these proposals are implemented, it will have a very serious negative effect on the quality of the education offered," Spiegel said.
According to Spiegel, the vote doesn't mean that a strike is likely; he said this is just another step in the bargaining process. But, he said they are willing to hit the picket lines if that's what it takes.
"We couldn't go to class," said West Chester junior Liz Kane. "I think it would be a big deal for us to wake up and all of our teachers just say, 'You know what? We're not going to teach you today.'"
The union previously authorized strikes in 1999, 2003, and 2007, but were able to reach an agreements with the state.
It's not clear if schools have a contingency plan in case of a strike.
"We've never struck, so we've never seen what happens during a strike," said Spiegel.
According to Spiegel, if a strike happened, it would not be likely until spring. Approximately 120 thousand students attend state colleges and universities. The move does not affect state-related schools like Penn State and Pitt.