PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Faculty members at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities won't consider striking until the spring semester to minimize disruptions to students during the end-of-year academic crunch, their union said Tuesday.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which has been embroiled in a contentious contract dispute for nearly 18 months, announced the news in an open letter to students.
"Faculty know you are worried that your professors will go on strike," the letter reads. "We know you are concerned about the impact a strike would have on your classes, your finals, and your tuition dollars."
Postponing a strike decision means the universities should be able to finish the fall semester without interruption. Classes end Dec. 7, and finals start Dec. 10.
"It is certainly good news for our students that the faculty union has chosen not to disrupt the fall semester by going on strike," said Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education spokesman Kenn Marshall. "But we still need to reach a resolution that is fair to everyone, especially to our students."
Still, the letter to the system's 120,000 students describes "a gulf" between the two sides on issues including pay for part-time instructors, health care benefits and compensation for online education.
"But know that your faculty will only strike as a last resort," it reads.
Union president Steve Hicks said Tuesday that negotiating sessions are set for Dec. 11 and 19, and he added that there's room for hope "as long as we're still sitting down." There has never been a faculty strike.
The union represents more than 6,000 faculty members and coaches who have been working without a contract since June 2011.
Members voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to give their leadership the authority to call a strike. Ten out of 14 union chapter presidents must approve a walkout.
The state campuses are in Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
The spring semester begins Jan. 28.
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