Classes will continue in some form at Wright State University even if the school’s faculty union strikes the second week of spring semester.
The Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors filed a notice Monday with the State Employment Relations Board stating it may strike beginning at 8 a.m. Jan. 22, which is the seventh day of classes.
Union members are planning to picket near the entrances to campus. Of the approximate 1,700 faculty members at the university, 560 are represented by the AAUP union, according to WSU.
The university is preparing for the possible strike and has “contingency plans” in place to keep classes going, said spokesman Seth Bauguess.
A different teacher, such as president Cheryl Schrader or provost Sue Edwards, could substitute in a class where a professor is on strike, Bauguess said. The university could also temporarily combine classes or use online tools to keep classes going.
Wright State hasn’t reached out to nearby Clark State Community College for help covering classes affected by a strike and Sinclair Community College spokeswoman Deena John said Sinclair won’t assist staffing classes.
“It would be like a substitute teacher saying do something for an hour,” union president Martin Kich said. “In a way, it’s kind of like killing time and if they’re saying it’s anything else they’re pretending.”
The decision to put the university on notice for a strike comes after the board of trustees on Friday voted unanimously to implement its “last, best offer” on terms and conditions of employment to the school’s faculty union. The new terms moves faculty union members into a “uniform” health care plan, maintains current rules of retrenchment, includes no pay raises and would allow faculty to be furloughed as part of “cost savings days.”
In its strike notice filed Monday, the union took issue with the furlough policy, changes to health care, new provisions for promotions and tenure appointment and measures for a merit pay system.
The union in its strike notice complained that the terms and conditions imposed by the board Friday are worse than the recommendations from a fact-finder’s report that was issued in October. Union leaders first learned about the board imposed terms of employment through the media and Kich on Monday said the back and forth has amounted to a “weird game of chicken.”
President Schrader responded to the strike notice filed Monday saying the board and adminsitration “offered fair employment terms in light of our unprecedented financial crisis.” Wright State reduced its spending last year by around $53 million after years of overspending drained the school’s reserve fund. In June, trustees approved a fiscal year 2019 budget projecting another $10-million decline in revenue.
“We are disappointed the union representing many of our faculty members decided to file a strike notification today,” Schrader said in a prepared statement.
Although the union has already filed a strike notice, it will begin polling members on their support for one this week. But, union leaders believe they have the support for a strike, said Noeleen McIlvenna, a WSU history professor and contract administration officer for the union.
McIlvenna expects the strike will get support comparable to the union’s rejection of a fact-finder’s report in October, which members voted down by a margin of 467-12. The university will not pay professors who go on strike, Bauguess said.
McIlvenna has called the strike a “final straw” and said the union is prepared to stike as long as needed “to save the university from this reckless board.” The university’s position in negotiations was focused on reaching an agreement that would help make the university financially sustainable in the long-term and would prevent increased costs to students, board chairman Doug Fecher said on Friday.
Although students are still on winter break, news of the strike seemed to spread among them over the weekend and throughout Monday. Students expressed concern on social media and a rock at Wright State was spray-painted with the phrase “Wright State, wrong faculty.”
The university’s mission is to serve its students and that’s unlikely to be achieved as well if a strike occurs, said WSU student body president Daniel Palmer.
“It’s very disappointing…I truly don’t think that we should be here in the first place,” Palmer said. “It’s really sad that adults are not able to come together to find a middle ground to help out the students.”