HARRISBURG - The union representing faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities will vote this week on whether to authorize a strike if negotiations with the State System of Higher Education break down.

The union president said yesterday a vote approving a strike would not necessarily mean that the system's 5,500 professors and 350 coaches would walk off the job if an agreement was not reached before contracts expire June 30.

The two groups of employees negotiate separately with the administration, said Pat Heilman, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

Negotiators for the professors and coaches have met periodically with the administration since proposals were exchanged in January. About a half-dozen negotiating sessions for the professors are scheduled, and the coaches' negotiators are working with a mediator to schedule new meetings, Heilman said.

The timing of the latest strike-authorization vote, today through Thursday, is simply a matter of logistics, Heilman said.

"It's very difficult for us to try to conduct a strike-authorization vote in the summer, because people are scattered," Heilman said.

"This [vote] is earlier than normal, and that does cause some concern," said system spokesman Kenn Marshall, who added the administration hoped to reach agreements by June 30.

"Both sides, I think, have characterized the sessions as positive," Marshall said.

Heilman would not discuss the details of the union's contract proposal. The system's initial offer, a four-year pact, calls for no general raises, but it would include seniority-based increases of 1.5 percent or 3 percent, depending on longevity. Professors at the top of the salary scale would receive cash payments equal to 1.5 percent of their salaries, Marshall said.

The average faculty salary is more than $68,000.

The contracts would cover the 14 state-owned universities, not the four state-related universities - Pennsylvania State, Temple and Lincoln Universities and the University of Pittsburgh.