C alifornia State University (CSU) is facing a $583.8 million dollar budget cut for the 2009-10 fiscal year. CSU faculty are being asked to take 10 percent less pay by accepting two days of furloughs per month for 2009-10. Justification for this request is to protect 3,700 full time equivalent lecturer positions (9,000 instructors) from lay offs.
The CSU faculty, like state workers, are being asked to bail out the state by accepting less pay because of massive budget deficits. State worker unions and the California Faculty Association must stand firm against the CSU administration and state government officials. Giving concessions undermines the wages for working people across the board. It also means protecting the incomes of the rich and of the most powerful corporations in California.
The budget crisis in California has been artificially created by cutting taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. The current "crisis" is a shock and awe process designed to undermine wages and unions in the state and force labor concessions to protect corporate profits.
According to the California Budget Project, tax cuts enacted in California since 1993 cost the state $11.3 billion dollars annually. Had the state continued taxing corporations and the wealthy at rates equal to those 15 years ago, we would not have a budget crisis today. Even though a budget crisis was evident last year, California income tax laws were changed in February of this year to provide corporations with even greater tax savings—equal to over $2 billion per year.
Half of all state revenue comes from personal income taxes paid by working people; another third comes from sales and use taxes. The result is that as a percent of income, taxes hit lower-paid workers the hardest. Corporations only pay for about one-tenth of the state budget. The rest of us are bailing out the rich by accepting massive budget cuts at a time when less spending will only exacerbate the economic situation.
Unions and working people need to say no to massive state budget cuts and fight for every service and job possible. We must say no to voluntary furloughs and push for new taxes on the wealthy and on the largest corporations. CSU professors should be the leaders for working people in the state. We must stand firm on no concessions, no furloughs and no cuts in classes for our students.
Over 25 CSU faculty have responded to my call for a negative vote on furloughs. Responses are running 5 to 1 opposing the furlough plan. The common negative response seems to be mostly that if we don't give in to furloughs, a lot of our colleagues will be laid off. Unfortunately this is true, but over 1,000 lecturers have already been laid off in the past year, and many more will face layoff whether we approve furloughs or not.
The massive cuts to the CSU are not here just because of the recession. The recession had been long predicted. As working class faculty it is up to us to declare that there has been a deliberate effort to create an artificial fiscal crisis in order to force massive givebacks by unionized state workers.
Several faculty have declared that given the cost of living in California, they are barely making it and a 10 percent cut will mean that they are unable to meet their basic expenses. Many lecturers, like my friend Larry Bensky, a 19-year veteran at CSU East Bay, have been told they will not be back in the fall. Under the artificial state fiscal crisis, we will continue to see a systematic laying off of lecturers as we have in the past year.
The CSU system will not be able to immediately lay off 9,000 lecturers and still offer adequate classes for students currently enrolled. If the unions bail out the state with voluntary wage reductions, we are only delaying the inevitable without challenging the capital class in California. We must stand together in partnership with students to both challenge our elected officials and, if need be, move to a more open withdrawal of our labor to protect our lecturer colleagues and our students.
We have yet to hear that anyone is proposing a graduated progressive furlough plan for which management personnel and presidents would have the highest percent salary declines, and the lowest-paid faculty-employees the least or none at all. When such a move happens, then perhaps we should support a temporary suspension of our agreed salary increases under the union contract.
In the meantime, we haven't seen the state honoring our hard-won contract with promised cost of living increases, and instead we are being asked to take reductions. It is time to say no, enough is enough!
Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University.
Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org ]email@example.com.