Negotiators for Wright State University’s administration and faculty union haven’t met since Monday, leaving what may already be the longest faculty strike in Ohio’s history to continue.
One of the most contentious remaining issues is health care, said Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the union. The administration has moved faculty union members into a “uniform” health care plan with the rest of the school’s staff and faculty.
A stipulation in the terms and conditions of employment imposed by the board of trustees on Jan. 4 states 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.
Union leaders believe the measure takes away their right to bargain over health care and has opposed it since before the strike began Jan. 22.
“It’s about the right to bargain over health care as opposed to all the specifics of the plan,” McIlvenna said. “It’s the idea that they could change the plan next year and then the next year.”
The strike is the union’s response to the WSU board of trustees implementation of its last, best offer of terms of employment for the union.
The terms include 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.” The union has taken issue with the furlough policy, changes to health care, new provisions for promotions and tenure appointment, workload and a merit pay system.
Wright State’s finances have contributed to the troubled contract talks. The university reduced its spending by around $53 million in fiscal year 2018 in an attempt to begin correcting years of overspending.
The administration has sought to clarify its position on health care, offering to formalize or put in writing the reassurance about it. The union’s health care plan would only change if the university-wide plan changes, which WSU legal counsel Larry Chan has said would serve as a “guardrail” to ensure fair treatment.
WSU president Cheryl Schrader has said previous health care benefits for union members were “what you would say is a Cadillac health care plan.” Schrader has argued the plan implemented under the new terms of employment is comparable to plans at other area colleges.
“Our mission is not to provide premium health care packages for one-sixth of our workforce,” Schrader said. “Our mission is to serve our students and make sure they get a high-quality, affordable education.”
Without a full deal in place, Wright State delayed its student withdrawal deadline a second time Wednesday.
The last day students can now withdraw from Wright State with a full refund is Feb. 8, provost Susan Edwards said in a campus-wide email.
The new date gives students yet another week to decide whether to withdraw. The original deadline to withdraw with a full refund was Jan. 25, three days after members of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University professors went on strike.
Late registration fees will also be waived to allow students to make changes to their class schedules, Edwards said in her email.
“You remain our top priority,” Edwards told students via email. “We acknowledge that there have been disruptions in your classes. We will continue to identify where the disruptions have occurred and work quickly to avoid further interruptions to your educational experience.”
The Wright State faculty union strike may already be one of the longest in Ohio’s history as the dispute enters its 10th day without a deal.
The national AAUP headquartered in Washington, D.C. does not keep track of strikes by its member chapters, said spokeswoman Rachel Larris. But, a review of news articles over the last several decades shows Wright State’s faculty strike could already be the longest in the state’s history.
The University of Cincinnati’s faculty union went on strike in 1979 for five days and again in 1993 for seven days, according to AAUP-UC. Cincinnati State and Technical College faculty went on strike in 2011 for one week before returning to the classroom and faculty at Youngstown State University went on strike in 2011 for a few hours, according to The Vindicator
Picketing was canceled today and Wednesday as were classes at WSU because of frigid temperatures brought to the Midwest by a polar vortex. Although AAUP-WSU leaders hadn’t heard from the administration since Monday, McIlvenna said they emailed the university’s negotiating team to say they were open to continued talks even as the school remained closed.
“I thought it provided a beautiful opening for the two teams to sit down,” McIlvenna said. “Nature has presented us with an opportunity to not have anything on our schedule. Why not turn to the most pressing thing?”
Wright State’s board of trustees met to discuss the labor dispute in private for two and a half hours Tuesday evening but emerged from the gathering without taking any action. Board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher on Wednesday said there weren’t any new details he could provide but said its possible trustees may meet again on Friday.
“There’s nothing to announce or report,” Fecher said. “We’ll continue to work on it.”
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