The State Employment Relations Board ruled against Wright State University’s administration Sunday, allowing the faculty strike to continue.
The board’s decision came after an emergency meeting was called for Sunday during which attorneys for the administration and the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors each made their cases.
The administration on Thursday filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state, asking it to declare the faculty strike unauthorized.
A SERB ruling in favor of the university would have required the union to cease all strike activity immediately, according to WSU.
Union ‘delighted but not surprised’ by ruling
Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the union, blamed the board of trustees for forcing the hearing Sunday. Ohio Revised Code requires SERB to make a decision within 72 hours of when a complaint claiming a strike is unauthorized is filed.
“We are delighted but not surprised. We knew it was a ridiculous filing,” McIlvenna said. “We have done everything right and everything legal and this is just one more example of wasted student tuition dollars spent on attorneys filing these ridiculous complaints.”
During the meeting, the administration’s attorney Daniel Guttman told SERB that regardless of the outcome, negotiators for the administration and union planned to meet about the labor dispute later Sunday.
Wright State President Cheryl Schrader said if an agreement is reached following Sunday evening’s negotiations, then it would be implemented right away. Despite the ruling, Schrader blamed the AAUP-WSU for issues at the school during the first week of the strike.
“While SERB did not rule this strike unauthorized as we had asked, the union’s actions to prevent the university from operating are having a significant toll,” Schrader said in a statement.
WSU claimed union ‘sabotaged’ plans to keep classes going
In its Thursday filing with SERB, the administration asked the board to declare the strike unauthorized in part because of workload and actions taken by AAUP-WSU leaders. Workload, the administration claims, is prohibited from being part of collective bargaining, according to WSU.
In its complaint, the administration said the strike should be considered unauthorized because the union’s leaders “intentionally sabotaged” plans to keep classes going by telling members to mislead the administration about whether they would continue teaching.
The complaint also accused unionized faculty of removing course information from an electronic WSU system to make it more difficult for the university to offer courses during the strike.
During his one-hour presentation, Guttman told the board that precedent states that “gamesmanship” is prohibited in public sector strikes. The union’s attempts to prevent the university from knowing how many classes it needed to temporarily staff should be considered that type of “gamesmanship,” Guttman said.
“The intentional acts are far worse in this case than anything we’ve ever seen,” Guttman said.
The issue led to around 150 to 200 classes going unattended, Guttman said.
The university reported last week that around 80 percent or so of AAUP-WSU classes continued without disruption. But, Guttman told SERB that 40 percent of classes taught by a union member actually had a teacher in them.
Before the strike, WSU president Cheryl Schrader said that all classes would continue but that some would be moved online, consolidated or taught by a substitute. Schrader herself returned to the classroom to teach two engineering classes last week.
Union attorney says classes have been ‘utter chaos’
The idea that administrators have been successfully teaching classes in the absence of AAUP-WSU members is “a fiction” because “it’s been utter chaos,” at the school, said AAUP-WSU attorney Susannah Muskovitz.
The issue of professors removing material from Wright State’s online teaching system is similar to a teacher having to develop their own lesson plan when taking over a course, Muskovitz said. The issue of workload was previously agreed to through a memorandum of understanding separate from the union’s collective bargaining agreement, which Muskovitz said invalidate’s the administration’s workload complaint.
The administration’s “mere allegation” shouldn’t be able to end the strike, Muskovitz said. She insisted that the proper way to evaluate the accusations was through an unfair labor practice investigation by the board of previously filed complaints, which is already underway.
If SERB had decided the strike was unauthorized then it would be “stripping public employees in Ohio” of their right to strike, Muskovitz told the board.
“The only question here is: is the strike lawful?” Muskovitz said. “The answer is yes.”
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