top of page

Sonoma State University faculty participate in historic week long, CSU-wide faculty strike


Jan 22, 2024

Faculty members are seeking a 12% raise, which university officials say would trigger cutbacks and layoffs.

Three dozen faculty members stood with ponchos and picket signs outside Sonoma State University's grassy campus Monday morning on Day

One of a Planned weeklong strike, the first since the campus opened 63 years ago.

The goal of the historic work stoppage was clear: "Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions." The message was chanted by strike organizers and written on picket signs.

The educators and a handful of students joined the systemwide walkout across California State University campuses due to stalled negotiations with the management of the 23-member CSU System.

Two sophomores studying computer science, with plastic lightsabers in hand, said they were headed to the gym before they planned to join the teachers that day.

Manny Torbor, 19, said "It's great to see a lot of people make a change. I feel like a lot of teachers do deserve it. They put in a lot of work for students and the community, and if they aren't seeing that they're being treated well, then I feel like they should definitely stand up for what's right."

Most students on campus were in support of the teacher strike, though some were disappointed the first week of class - syllabus week - was canceled.

I don't disagree with it, but I don't support it either," said Collins Onyeukwu, 26, a junior studying biology who is in his first year at SSU. '1ust because it's California, we need to pay more. But at the same time, we can't really stop school because of that, you know?"

Deciding to strike was not a decision taken lightly, many picketing faculty said.

"It is not insignificant," Newman said. "It's difficult for our students and it's difficult for us. But we're fighting for our future students."

Edina Obaseki, a 23-year-old senior double majoring in women's gender studies and biology, wore a red shirt to support the teacher's union and and so it was important for me to also come out here and support them as well within their demand, not just for pay raises, but also for the demands for students as well: the resources, the accessibility of lactation spaces."

She added that many students don't realize that the teachers are not just striking for themselves, but also for improved conditions for students.

'When you look at the bigger picture, being overworked and underpaid means they're not giving the full quality of education that they could actually give," Obaseki said. "Many of the demands are actually for students. One week of class of class can definitely be sacrificed."

The California Faculty Association is requesting a one-year 12% raise to account for inflation.

Negotiations ended abruptly on Jan. 9, when CSU negotiators walked out of a bargaining session after just 20 minutes, canceling the remaining four days of talks.

"If you're going to walk away from the bargaining table, then we're going to be out here exercising our power and our right," said Elaine Newman, an SSU math professor for more than 25 years and an organizer of the campus strike.

CSU offered 5% each year for the next three years to the California Faculty Association, with officials saying repeatedly that the union's salary demands were not financially viable and would have necessitated layoffs and other cuts.

But faculty association representatives say 12% raise would not only help to catch up with inflation over the past two years, but it would also help raise the minimum rate for lecturers, who are the lowest paid faculty members, union members argue.

Sakina Bryant, has been a full time lecturer for more than 10 years at Sonoma State. She's worked across various departments, and serves as the campus's Writing Center director, which offers resources to help students improve their writing skills.

"I am in the lowest hiring category at Sonoma State ... despite the work I do across multiple departments, constantly above capacity, teaching four or more classes while also running programs - all so that I can make below a living wage in the county," she said.

She also represents lecturers in SSU's academic senate. She was one of few lecturers present on the picket line, as many couldn't afford to miss a day of wages.

"I realize that Sonoma State has a large percentage of lecture faculty members who are in exactly the same boat as me," Bryant said.

"My entire reason for teaching is to try and create economic advancement for my students," she continued. "I come to work and I try to create opportunities for my students to go forth and become what they want to become, to make the money that they want to make. But I'm not in that position myself. To me, that's an atrocity."

The faculty association is also asking for more mental health counselors, and to extend their parental leave from six weeks to 15.

'We have a lot of students who go through mental health issues; they're at the age where these issues tend to present themselves - from 18 to 22 - so they need the extra support," said Emily Acosta Lewis, a communications and media studies professor in her 11th year of teaching. "At most CSU's, we're not providing enough support."

The CSU's chancellor's office sent out a news release Monday morning reminding students that classes were not canceled and campuses remained open. However, they said it was up to individual professors to communicate whether classes had been canceled.

Officials added that the spring academic calendar will not change, and that the strike would not interfere with graduation time or course completion.

The said the union's demands for a 12% raise would cost $312 million, and with added demands such as life insurance increases, the demands add up to a total of $380 million.

"This is financially unrealistic," CSU officials said in the release. "Their request far surpasses the state funding increase that the CSU received in last year's state budget ($227 million) and is more than the entire budget of Cal Poly Pomona ($369 million)."

Faculty have been quick to point to the salary of new Chancellor Mildred Garcia, who was hired at the largest starting salary of any chancellor in "Assigning the budget, deciding what we're spending money on, that's a moral choice," Newman said." They could be spending money on fair wages for faculty, good learning conditions for students ... instead they just hired this new chancellor who, with her (96,000) a year housing allowance, is making almost a million dollars."

Garda was hired in July 2023 with a salary package of $795,000 as her base salary- $170,000 more than the interim Chancellor - with a deferred compensation of $80,000 yearly, a monthly auto allowance of $1,000 and a monthly housing stipend of $8,000.

bottom of page