‘The best of the best wouldn’t allow us to be treated this way:’ CSU faculty’s fight for better pay

October 9, 2021

Welcome to Gator Talk, a collaborative CalState podcast that brings city and statewide perspectives to SF State news. 

Last week, the California Faculty Association — the union representing faculty across the California State University system — declared impasse in its contract negotiations with the CSU. Chris sat down with faculty from across the CSU to learn more about what the CFA is asking for, the CSU’s response, and what comes next.

Check out the story here at Gator Talk.


Chris: Hi, everyone. This is Chris Ramirez, editor-in-chief and your co-host for Gator Talk, a Golden Gate Xpress podcast that brings news to SF State students. We have a jam-packed episode this week, so let’s get right into it.

Here we go.

For more information/coverage, check out goldengatexpress.org OR @GGXnews on all social media platforms.

Preview of the show

Here’s a run-down of today’s episode.

First, I’m going to give you all a quick news brief with things that happened this week that we think matters most to SF State students, staff and faculty.

Today’s main story focuses on a crucial foundation for all colleges and universities — the faculty. Last week, the California Faculty Association — the union representing faculty across the California State University system — declared impasse in its contract negotiations with the CSU. I sat down with faculty from SF State to learn more about what the CFA is asking for, the CSU’s response, and what comes next.
Gators, stick around for this episode…it affects you too! 

Here’s the brief.

News brief

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Monday a bill that seeks to aid students facing food insecurities. The law will expand access to CalFresh food benefits  provided through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To make this expansion possible, public colleges and universities will also need certification from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) so that students enrolled in qualifying employment and training programs can access these benefits. 

On Tuesday, SF State unveiled Marcus Hall, the university’s newest building since the Creative Arts building over 25 years ago. The $81 million building is the new home for BECA, and finished construction last December.

Also on Tuesday, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen testified in front of a Senate subcommittee, exposing the tech company for policies she claims are destructive to democracy and the mental wellbeing of young users, particularly teenage girls. She told the Senate that when presented this information, Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, ignored the data for profits.

Main Story 

[interview audio]

Ben Kumli: It’s like a chess game, right? It pushes us to make the next logical move, which is really talking to each other, having conversations, making sure everyone’s needs are being considered, and hopefully included in bargaining.

James Martel:  It’s very important that the students and the faculty stand together, because the motto of the CFA is, “Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions.” When we’re being treated badly by the CSU, that hurts students’ education, right?

Hannah Rose-Lacy: I wish we’d gotten to an impasse sooner. I wish that we’d gotten to this point of taking it, of bringing in some outside, objective third-party sooner because the reports from James [Martel] have seemed like we’ve been at an impasse for months.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: So, when you can’t make an agreement with someone else and there’s no way to move forward, you’ve hit a wall. You’re deadlocked. Or in more technical terms….You’ve hit an  impasse. ..And that’s exactly what happened last Thursday. After 18 months of contract negotiations, the California State University and the California Faculty Association have hit an impasse. 

Chris: The CFA represents 29,000 employees of the CSU, and these people include faculty, librarians, counselors and coaches. Within each Cal State university, each department has its own union representatives for that school’s chapter of the CFA. But what if you have to negotiate contracts with the CSU?  Well, that’s done through a group of special CFA reps known as the bargaining team.

Chris: So in Fall 2019, the CFA began campaigning for a new collective bargaining agreement with the CSU. Faculty contracts were set to expire in June 2020, so the CFA did have some time. It started with sending out a survey and meeting with individual chapters to get a sense of the things that faculty across the state wanted to see changed. And the CFA got plenty of feedback. It reported that 7,000 members completed its survey, and in total, almost 700 pages of open-ended responses were submitted.

Chris: And then 2020 came around.

[audio news segments of the pandemic, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, BLM protests]

Mary Ellen Carroll, Director of the Department of Emergency: This is a constantly and rapidly changing situation. We are working hard to flatten the curve 

Lester Holt: In Minneapolis, tensions are high as four police officers have been fired as a man was pinned to the ground and died.

Tonight we’re learning disturbing new details from the night Louisville police shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment. 

[audio news segments end]

Chris: The year ultimately paved the way for what the CFA proposed to the CSU. There’s two super important CFA documents that transpired from last year: one from the pandemic and one responding to the protests that Black Lives Matter really paved the way for.

Chris: That’s not to say these things weren’t being considered among faculty before the pandemic. In fact, that January, the CFA said that it intended to bargain for a lot of things. They wanted increased salaries, better course cap sizes, more counselors on campuses, and improved protections for people of color and queer campus members. There’s a lot at stake for them.

Chris: But, SF State’s CFA president, James Martel, told me that that hope didn’t last long.

[interview audio]

James Martel: I started hearing stories from people on the bargaining team, who told other people that they were so deeply offended and upset by what the CSU was proposing that they really couldn’t believe it — that they seem to be hit even harder than they normally are, and they’re usually pretty hard. So I had a strong sense that bargaining was going terribly from the get go.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: The CFA doesn’t plan on budging on its bargaining proposals, despite the CSU having offered counter proposals to many of them. And so after that June 2020 deadline came up, both parties agreed to extend negotiations. And those have been happening up until last Thursday, when the CFA walked away from the table.

Chris: The CFA is pushing for a general salary increase of 4% for three years, with one of them being retroactive. Basically, faculty wants a 4% pay raise for last year, a 4% raise for this year, and you guessed it…a 4% raise for next year.

Chris: And in return, the CSU is proposing a 2% pay raise only for last year. And CFA members aren’t happy about that. Taking inflation and the increasing cost of living, especially in the Bay Area, they say it’s essentially taking a pay cut.

[interview audio]

James Martel: The CSU has been very, very, very harsh and very ungenerous with this really insulting offer of a 2% raise, which is about a third of the inflation rate. So that means that, you know, even if we bought it, we would still lose 4% of our salary anyway.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: I spoke with multiple faculty members and they all said that really, they don’t know why the CSU is pushing back. I spoke with a professor at SF State, Blanca Missé, and she said …

[interview audio]

Blanca Missé: Unfortunately, they don’t always have to give a reason. That’s the thing. We give reasons for everything we want. And they should give reasons when they say they don’t agree, but they don’t. And that is where we end up declaring impasse, right? You declare impasse when you’re arguing for a point — and the other side is either not making progress, arguing with you or refuses to say straight, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. Why? Because we’re not going to do that.’

[interview audio ends]

Chris: The salary increases are the main proposal the CFA has given to the CSU, but there’s a handful of other really pivotal articles as well. Some of them include salary range elevation for lecture faculty, strengthening job security for coaches, semester-long paid parental leave, and affirming academic freedom in the classroom.

Chris: I was interested in the academic freedom article because here at SF State, that conversation has come up a lot in the past year, particularly around education surrounding Palestine. On our campus, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi has been the target of hate mail and death threats from pro-Israel groups, and the article is trying to prevent what the CFA describes as faculty censorship coming from outside entities.

[interview audio]

Blanca Missé: You become target, and the College of Ethnic Studies and Africana Studies Department has been the target of racist acts. And when racist acts occur in the classroom, outside the classroom, it has a chilling effect on everybody — on the students, on the faculty who think like, ‘Well, maybe I need to watch myself, maybe I need to watch what I say. I don’t want to lose my job, I don’t want to be attacked, I don’t want this.’ When those who speak for justice, Palestine as an example, their rights are violated, we do not have the proper mechanisms to protect them. So we need to have them.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: She also brought up that the CFA has made it a point to be as transparent as possible when explaining why it feels it deserves the raise it’s advocating for, and has all of its supporting evidence on its website. There’s document after document of data about money the CSU has gotten, and says that that’s reason enough to pay for these increases.

Chris: The CSU put out a statement following the impasse saying that most of the funding is one-time, and that ongoing funding will be used to close the equity gap without raising the cost of tuition.

Chris: State funding has actually increasingly gone up, and this year, when Newsom expanded university funding in the state budget, the CSU pulled in a total of $550 million in state funding. This doesn’t account for money received from the federal government through pandemic-related aid either.

Chris: According to data pulled from the CSU, the school system’s total revenue for the fiscal year 2021 was $11.8 billion. And at least since 2016, the CSU has brought in more revenue versus the amount of money it’s spending. So we’re seeing this increase in money being saved and brought into the CSU, but that money isn’t necessarily going back into instruction. Funding for instruction has steadily declined, and last year it made up just under 37% of the Cal State’s expenses.

[interview audio]

Blanca: So we’re asking for a retroactive wage increase, because this is the thing, the cost of living increases every year. If your wages don’t go with it, you’re taking a pay cut. And so what, currently, CSU is telling us when we’re discussing wages, is that we need to take a pay cut. And that’s very insulting, because we’ve been working overtime. And when the pandemic occurred, we spent most of the summer, last summer, trying to bargain how we could be compensated for all the extra work. And the administration says, ‘We refuse to negotiate any form of compensation with you. You will do that in the bargaining. You’ll do that in the bargaining.’ And we’ll say like, ‘But we’re working, now, extra labor.’ And so basically, we have worked more, and now we’re taking a paycut — you can think of equity about that. That’s, you know, interesting.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: In talking to multiple faculty members from SF State, they point out what they call a really contradictory move from the CSU — salary increases for CSU campus presidents.


– Chris: We’re gonna take a quick break – 


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– break ends  – 


Cont. Main Story

[audio from July 14 Board of Trustees meeting]

Former Chancellor Timothy P. White: If we are substantially out of sync with the rest of the nation, that limits our pool. In addition, we have lost talented leaders from time to time, with CSU’s compensation as one important factor. So this issue is one of both recruiting and retaining great human talent in these difficult and demanding and vital campus leadership positions.

[audio ends]

Chris: At the Sept. 15 Board of Trustees meeting, the board unanimously voted to implement salary assessments for 10 campus presidents within the university system. 

Chris: These assessments go hand-in-hand with a president’s individual triennial review. If a president scores well enough, they would get up to a 10% increase of their current salary, with guaranteed equity adjustments for the next two years. The process would then continue to happen following each review, until they’re being paid at what’s considered a competitive market rate.

Chris: And this was a big pressure point for many faculty at SF State. When Chancellor Castro came to the campus and answered the question, his response of saying that this decision was for equity really rubbed faculty the wrong way, to say the least. One faculty member even made the point that the chancellor makes more money than the president of the country, which is true. Castro took a 30% salary increase after being appointed chancellor. He makes $625,000. Since 2001, United States presidents have made $400,000 a year.

[interview audio]

Candace Low: That’s what you call deflection or gaslighting. It’s the cognitive dissonance. It’s about pretending to have to play the hero, but then you’re actually robbing from the people. If you want to deliver a particular product, if it was the education that was most important, it is the professor, it is the lecturer who is delivering that service. The quality of that service, it lies directly with a faculty member who’s asking to be paid for the quality of their value, and not getting paid ads on so many stresses that also has a direct and an arguable relationship to the quality of that education.

Ann Robertson: You know, you don’t attract the best of the best with money. Because the best of the best are not motivated by money.

Brad Erickson: The best of the best wouldn’t allow us to be treated this way. They wouldn’t use equity and social justice as a marketing slogan — they would actually use it to motivate and to guide their actions, and they’re not doing that. They’re completely violating those words, “equity” and “social justice.”

Brad Erickson: And this is supposed to be the people’s university, serving the people of California. And so all so they have money for themselves for that for the rich people.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: And so, the idea of faculty salary increases affects everyone across the board, but it’s arguably most critical for the lecture faculty. Hannah Rose-Lacy is a lecturer faculty who teaches chemistry at SF State, and she said that it’s really unfair because lecturers make up about half of the instructors at SF State and teach 60% of all students on campus.

Chris: And on top of this, lecturers are paid differently too. Tenured and tenure-track faculty are offered competitive starting pay, while lecturers tend to get paid at the lowest starting wages possible, and find it difficult to get raises as well. In fact, lecturers at SF State lost roughly $15,000 in their salaries between 2003 and 2018, with inflation being taken into account. Some of the lecturer faculty I spoke to referred to themselves as the “gig workers” of the university system.

[interview audio]

Hannah Rose-Lacy: I make, I’ll tell you, I make 40k a year. I work full time. After taxes, my take home is around $31,500. Well, my son’s tuition, my son’s college tuition and room and board for him to go to college is $35,000 a year. So I’m just putting all of my wage into- and thankfully, I have a partner that can deal with our household expenses. So like, why, why, why am I still here, right? I’m here for you, I’m here for the students.

[interview audio ends]

Chris: Almost everyone I talked to about lecture faculty brought up this idea of a two-tier system as well.

Chris: The two-tier system is this type of payroll system where there’s essentially two classes of employees: one tier consists of employees with higher wages and benefits than the other. And in the case of the university system, lecturer faculty are in the lower tier, with tenured and tenure-track faculty being in the one above. And so what lecturers explained is that sometimes, employers like the CSU will offer deals that benefit the top tier, but exclude lecture faculty from reaping the benefits. This can divide unions and essentially pits lecture faculty against tenured-track faculty, when union members agree that the fight needs to be taken to the employer — in this case, the CSU.

Chris: And more or less everyone I talked to said that even within the CFA, these tensions exist. But the lecture faculty I spoke with said that this time, the CFA leadership is really making the effort to include them in the conversations and mitigate these tensions.

Chris: So what’s next? Well, short answer, we don’t know. But longer answer? It depends on how negotiations move forward. A third party will review the impasse, and if it’s valid, it moves into different stages where third parties will try and resolve the disagreements by offering solutions. And if all this is unsuccessful — faculty will be allowed to go on strike. Previous faculty contract guidelines are still upheld, so faculty aren’t without their benefits, but these negotiations for future contracts could take months. 

[interview audio]

James Martel:  We’re taking this very seriously, we’re starting to organize ourselves into the strike teams. We’re using our department rep system to sort of talk to everybody one on one, just basically every faculty member and sort of try to gauge their strike readiness and to sort of promote strike readiness.


And that was the episode. 

This is Chris Ramirez, editor-in-chief and your co-host for Gator Talk.
New episodes will premiere every weekend, so stay tuned.

And with that, I’m out.

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About the Contributors
Photo of Chris Ramirez
Chris Ramirez
Chris Ramirez is a senior at SF State who will graduate in May. He is double majoring in journalism and German and minoring in political science. He serves as editor-in-chief for SF State's student publication, the Golden Gate Xpress and is the spring California intern at POLITICO.

Chris lives in San Francisco and hails from Southern California. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running and living vicariously through the women on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. After graduating, he looks forward to catching up on some much-needed sleep.

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