Wright State University’s faculty union goes on strike at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning after offers exchanged late last week failed to reach a resolution.
Faculty plan to picket outside WSU campus entrances along Colonel Glenn Highway and near the Nutter Center. Around one-third of the 560 or so union members will be in the classroom instead of on the picket line, according to the WSU administration. Wright State employs around 1,700 faculty, including adjunct faculty, according to the university.
Classes and operations will continue at the university despite the strike. Some classes have been consolidated, moved online temporarily or will be staffed by a substitute, including Wright State president Cheryl Schrader who plans to return to the engineering classroom.
Today, Schrader made a public plea to students to attend classes despite the strike and said they shouldn’t worry about crossing possible picket lines near school entries. Students’ work during the strike, Schrader said, will count toward their overall grade for the class.
“The university will honor our contract with our students,” Schrader said.
If there are any changes to class schedules, WSU leaders will communicate them with students through their Wright State email accounts. The last day students can withdraw from WSU and still get a full refund is Friday, three days after the strike starts.
The strike is the culmination of nearly two years of failed negotiations between leaders of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University professors and the school’s administration.
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 current terms of employment. 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. In an email sent to the union’s chief negotiator on Friday, WSU legal counsel Larry Chan offered to formally clarify employment terms around furloughs, health care and workload in an effort to reassure union members
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 WSU board of trustees on Jan. 4 voted to implement the final terms of employment for the union which includes 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.
The decision to strike was a “final straw” in reaction to the terms implemented by the board, said Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the union.
“It feels like an attack on our disciplines, on our professions,” McIlvenna said.
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