WSU board votes on new contract offer, union calls it a ‘stunt’

Wright State University’s board of trustees voted to approve its own contract offer Sunday for the school’s faculty union but it won’t mean an end to the strike as the group’s leaders have already said they will return to the picket line.

Members of Wright State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors have been on strike for 13 days, potentially making it the longest in state history. They have been picketing at entrances to campus along Colonel Glenn Highway.

“I think this is a reasonable offer,” Wright State president Cheryl Schrader said. “(The offer) has listened to many of the issues that have been brought forth by union leadership…I think in the end this is really about financial considerations that need to occur in order for the university to look forward to financial sustainability.”

» RELATED: State employment board rules Wright State faculty strike can continue

The administration has asked that the AAUP-WSU put the proposed contract to a vote but union president Martin Kich said the group would not do that because no “tentative agreement” has been reached yet. Kich called the board’s action “a stunt” and said that he can’t imagine the board of trustees voting on a union-created proposal, simply because AAUP-WSU members approved of it.

Wright State’s budget problems and the issue of health care were the central focus of Sunday’s meeting. Schrader has criticized the union’s previous health care benefits as unsustainable and the “Cadillac” of plans.

Several trustees called for the union to join a university-wide health plan in order to save the school money. Wright State is in the process of digging its way out of a budget crisis after the school reduced spending by around $53 million in fiscal year 2018.

The terms of employment imposed by the Wright State board of trustees on Jan. 4 state that health care can be changed at the university’s discretion. The administration must give 60-days notice to the faculty union before health benefits are altered, according to the terms.

AAUP-WSU leaders have long said that agreeing to the administration’s terms for health care would eliminate their right to bargaining for health benefits.

During a negotiating session Friday afternoon, the administration offered the union a contract that would maintain previous contract language when it comes to layoffs and workload and would limit possible furlough days to one per semester, WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess said. The offer would maintain summer teaching rotations for professors, though they would receive less money for them.

If the union had accepted the offer, it would guarantee up to a 2.5 percent pay raise for union faculty each year of the final two years of the contract. The offer was contingent on members of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors joining the school’s uniform health care plan.

Union leaders have already said the strike will continue after the administration rejected an offer they made late Saturday. The faculty union, Kich said, will remain on strike to safeguard the organization’s voice which “allows us to protect the academic integrity of our programs.”

» LOCAL: Faculty strike could impact Wright State’s enrollment, finances

The AAUP-WSU offered the administration around “$8 million in concessions” on Saturday, according to a press release from the union. Those concessions included what the AAUP-WSU said would be a 20 percent reduction in pay for faculty who teach summer classes.

During Saturday’s negotiations, union leaders said they offered to join the uniform health care plan if the administration allowed them to continue bargaining about premiums, deductible and out-of-pocket maximums. The offer would allow the administration to have control over co-pays, drug co-pays and health savings account contributions, among other thins, according to an AAUP-WSU press release.

AAUP-WSU leaders also reiterated their sentiment expressed Friday when the board of trustees offered a contract deal that would give the union raises in 2022 and 2023. The union has said the two pay raises would not actually amount to an increase in pay because of reductions that would be made through health care and summer pay.

The administration offered the union a contract that would maintain previous contract language when it comes to layoffs and workload and would limit possible furlough days to one per semester, WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess has said.

“When the board hired President Schrader and an outside attorney, their goal was to break the union. The reason the faculty are on strike is to save our union, because it gives us a voice at the University,” Kich said in a prepared statement. “These Trustees have not served this public university well. They do not understand higher education and they should not be allowed to determine the curriculum.”

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