CSCU leader asks for contract concessions; faculty unions balk

CSCU President Gregory Gray

CTMIRROR.ORG

CSCU President Gregory Gray

Updated at 3:39 p.m.

With plans to cut spending by $22 million, the president of the state’s largest public college system is asking union leaders for concessions.

But the presidents of the two largest unions representing employees at the community colleges and Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities say they aren’t interested.

“Are we willing to open our contract? No. Right now, I am not willing to do that,” said Vijay Nair, the president of the CSU-American Association of University Professors.

“There is no point in having that chat as long as the system is mismanaged,” said Steven Cohen, president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, which represents most faculty. Cohen pointed to central office costs that are rising as faculty numbers decline.

“He’s wasting his time,” said Cohen. “It’s a conversation we are not interested in having at the moment.”

With 6,100 full- and part-time faculty, counselors, coaches and librarians  in these two unions, the rejection could mean cuts elsewhere or layoffs.

Gregory W. Gray, president of the regional and community college system, wrote a letter to every union leader on Tuesday asking for concessions.

“As you know, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities are facing a dire financial situation,” he wrote. “In light of the budget gap, I would like to ascertain your willingness to meet with me to discuss budget issues and explore all options to get us through this fiscal crisis.”

The college system has forecast that its budget would grow by $63.7 million next year — a 5.4 percent increase — if officials don’t make any cuts. The system’s governing board on Thursday voted to raise tuition and fees by 4.8 to 5.3 percent to help pay for some of that increased spending. (Read why college costs are increasing here.)

The current contracts with staff at the four regional universities and community colleges only protect employees from layoffs through June 30, but they guarantee 5 percent pay raises next fiscal year. The contract governing college employees’ health and retirement benefits — which are negotiated by the governor’s staff with the state employees union — don’t expire until 2022.

Members of the Board of Regents said they are considering saving $10 million through staff attrition. Another $10 million may be saved by laying people off.

Gray told the board Thursday he wrote to six unions because he wants them to consider accepting furloughs as a way to avoid layoffs.

“I would much rather go through furloughs,” he said.

As officials create a budget for the regents in coming months, Gray said he will try to avoid workforce reductions, but said, “that may be very difficult to do.”

Nair — whose union has had a contentious relationship with Gray — said he hopes state lawmakers decide to provide the needed funding to close the college system’s projected deficit.

“We believe it is premature to begin talking about opening our contract,” said Nair. “What should be happening is the president should be lobbying legislators aggressively. I would like him to be a lot more aggressive in getting funding from the state.”

But the state is also facing a deficit. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed cutting state funding to the 16-campus and online college system by $20.5 million next year. The legislature has until June 3 to adopt a budget.

Funding to support the sprawling network of schools has been on a roller coaster over the last several years. Facing an historic $3.7 billion budget shortfall in 2012, state lawmakers reduced funding to the system by 10 percent. But funding has since rebounded, and last year the state spent $522.7 million on the colleges — more than in any of the five previous years.

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