With two days until some of Wright State University’s faculty is set to strike, both the union and administration remain dug in on the issues that divide them.
Members of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors plan to start picketing outside campus entrances at 8 a.m. Tuesday, including locations along Colonel Glenn Highway and outside the Nutter Center. At this point, a strike is likely unavoidable, said Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the union.
“I think we could do a contract pretty quickly, but I’m pretty sure there will be at the very minimum a day of strike,” McIlvenna said. “I don’t think it’s possible to get it done before Tuesday. There is a slight chance, but I’m not really thinking its feasible.”
The possible strike comes after the WSU board of trustees’ decision to implement its terms: moving faculty union members into a “uniform” health care plan, maintaining current rules of retrenchment, including no pay raises and allowing faculty to be furloughed as part of “cost savings days.” In its strike notice, the union took issue with the furlough policy, changes to health care, new provisions for promotions and tenure appointment, workload and a merit pay system.
In something of a last-ditch effort to calm tensions, the administration made an offer last week to begin negotiating a “successor agreement” to the terms imposed on the union. Wright State University president Cheryl Schrader’s offer was turned down, with union president Martin Kich saying that the board was fighting for a change to the current terms of employment, not a future contract.
On Thursday, the union emailed the administration’s attorney saying it would withdraw an unfair labor practice complaint if the administration was willing to withdraw the terms of employment in exchange for negotiations on a current contract.
The administration followed up by filing its own unfair labor practice complaint with the state, saying the union had its members mislead the university about whether they intended to strike, spread misleading information to students about attending classes and told department chairs they should resign, among other things, according to the university.
Wright State employs around 1,700 faculty, including adjunct faculty, according to the university. Around 560 faculty are members of the AAUP-WSU.
“The actions of one-sixth of our employees will not alter our mission as an institution of higher learning,” Schrader said. “And, their actions most certainly do not change our contractual and ethical obligations to our students.”
Classes will continue at Wright State on Tuesday, though some may be consolidated, moved online or taught by a substitute. Schrader, an engineer, plans to return to the classroom herself, if a strike does occur.
Wright State’s finances have contributed to trouble at the negotiating table. The university reduced its spending by around $53 million in fiscal year 2018 in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending.
The union filed a strike notice with the State Employment Relations Board on Jan. 7 and since took a vote in which 95 percent of eligible members authorized a strike. The AAUP-WSU would not provide the exact number of ballots cast for or against a strike, but it said 85 percent of voters approved a strike.
The AAUP-WSU is renting a conference room from the Wingate hotel on presidential drive near Wright State’s Colonel Glenn Highway entrances.
Striking is a “final straw” because faculty do not want to strike but feel like they need to take a stand, McIlvenna said.
“That’s what the strike is, we’re just not accepting it,” McIlvenna said. “If we accept it, we have given up everything.”
Educators on strike
Wright State’s potential faculty strike comes after months of other labor disputes at colleges and public school systems have spilled into public view.
Kent State University’s AAUP is in the midst of contract negotiations with its administration and will soon move into the same fact-finding process Wright State went through.
Kent State’s chapter authorized a strike in December by a margin of 456 to 24. But, the AAUP-KSU has not filed a strike notice with SERB.
A union leader for Kent State declined to comment directly on the school’s ongoing negotiations. But, in a letter to Schrader, the AAUP-KSU criticized the administration for its negotiating tactics.
A CLOSER LOOK
What the board imposed
• New “uniform” health care plan
• Maintains previous rules of retrenchment
• Includes no pay raises
• Allows furloughs
What the union took issue with
• Furlough policy
• Health care changes that eliminate faculty rights to negotiate
• New provisions for promotions, tenure appointment
• Merit pay system
“At Kent State University, the AAUP and faculty body value the open communication and respectful relationships we share with the administration,” the letter states.
As it is at Wright State, medical benefits remain an outstanding issue in Kent State’s negotiations. In its last best offer, the WSU board moved faculty union members into one university-wide health care policy, which is what Kent State’s administration wants to do, according to the AAUP-KSU.
Potential strikes at Wright State and Kent State come after labor disputes at grade schools in the last year that occurred as nearby as West Virginia and as far away as California. Most recently, the United teachers of Los Angeles went on strike this week, marking the first time educators there have gone on strike in three decades.
“Teachers of every kind are standing up and saying no,” McIlvenna said. “We are very inspired by the K-12 teachers.”
Local leaders take notice
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is herself a Wright State graduate and hopes a strike can be avoided. But, she said she understands why the faculty union feels it needs to take a stand over poor management of the past that has led to many of the school’s current problems.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation…I recognize both sides are trying to right something I don’t think either side is really responsible for,” Whaley said of the union and Schrader’s administration.
Whaley recently sent a letter to Schrader and the board of trustees encouraging each to “reconsider your hard line” and restart contract negotiations with the union. WSU is “critical” to Dayton’s economic health, Whaley wrote.
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown also wrote a letter to Schrader and the board of trustees in which he understands negotiations have been a “tense, often frustrating process.”
“I urge you to reconsider your approach to these negotiations, specifically the hard line you have taken with the Wright State faculty,” Brown wrote.
But the sympathies of other area leaders don’t necessarily lie with the union.
There is “nothing good that could come out of a strike,” said Dayton Chamber of Commerce president Phil Parker. A strike could weaken Wright State, which Parker said is unnecessary considering the issues WSU has faced in recent years, including ongoing budget issues and a federal investigation of H1-B visa misuse that ended in November.
“I know that they’ve all been working at this for a while. I’m not trying to cast any sole blame,” Parker said. “We don’t need a strike. We need to resolve this as soon as we possibly can.”
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