Wright State Strike Begins

What will it take to end WSU strike? A court order could do it

With Wright State University’s administration and faculty union still at an impasse, a deal that’s eluded both sides for years might not be what actually ends an ongoing strike. But, court action could.

Members of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors returned to the picket line on Monday in what may already be the state’s longest faculty union strike. Union members have been picketing at the entrances to campus along Colonel Glenn Highway for 15 days now.

“This is not the way that you want to make history in Ohio,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Following negotiating sessions last weekend, the strike is poised to go on even longer unless a compromise is made or the university files an injunction in the hopes that a court intervenes. In some cases, colleges have been successful when asking a court to order professors back into the classroom.

» RELATED: Wright State cancels some classes for semester as strike continues

When asked Sunday whether she thought ending the strike would require court action, WSU president Cheryl Schrader demurred and instead said she hoped an offer extended to the union last weekend would become a contract.

“Certainly our hope is that tonight we have that opportunity to have that approval from the union membership,” Schrader said. “With that or without that we certainly hope our faculty come and join us in the classroom.”

Court action is a strategy that’s worked in the past though. At Michigan’s Ferris State University last fall and at Central Michigan University in 2011 judges ordered faculty back into the classroom, according to news reports at the time.

Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education talks with students at Wright State University on Monday. The university’s faculty union is in its 15th day on strike.
Photo: Photo provided by James Curlis.

A 29-day faculty strike at Philadelphia’s Temple University in 1990 concluded after a federal judge ordered it to end. In the Temple ruling, a judge ordered professors back to work by arguing that “education is vital to the health, safety and welfare of this nation and this community,” according to an archived story that printed in The New York Times.

Despite precedent, AAUP-WSU president Martin Kich said he does not think the Wright State administration would be successful if it considered filing an injunction.

“They can file whatever they want but I don’t see it having an impact,” Kich said.

When asked if the administration would file for an injunction, spokesman Seth Bauguess said the university was instead focused on working with the State Employment Relations Board on unfair labor practice charges filed last month. Both the administration and the union have filed complaints with SERB that are being investigated.

The administration told SERB 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. The AAUP-WSU filed a complaint with SERB saying the board of trustees negotiated in public by telling the media about implementing its terms of employment before telling the union.

There is no statuatory guideline for a timeline on when a complaint has to be investigated, said Christine Dietsch, executive director of SERB.

» RELATED: Faculty strike could impact Wright State’s enrollment, finances

Last month, the administration asked SERB to declare the faculty strike unauthorized on the basis of workload and accusations that union members attempted to “intentionally sabotage” classes from continuing. After an emergency hearing, SERB issued a decision that the AAUP-WSU strike was lawful and allowed to continue.

That ruling, Kich said, would foreshadow the fate of an injunction if the administration sought to have a court intervene.

The latest attempt to reach a deal to end the strike failed Sunday after the board of trustees approved a contract offer that union leaders quickly rejected. Kich called the board’s action “a stunt” and said the AAUP-WSU would not bring the offer up for a vote because it didn’t represent a tentative agreement.

Health care remains the central issue on the negotiating table.

The terms of employment imposed by the Wright State board of trustees on Jan. 4 state 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.

But, AAUP-WSU leaders have long said that agreeing to the administration’s terms for health care would eliminate their right to bargaining for health benefits.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Gardner have been closely monitoring the Wright State strike.

Student body president Daniel Palmer said he’s asked Gardner if the state could intervene in any way to end the dispute. Gardner was at Wright State Monday to talk directly with students or as he put it “the reason Wright State University exists” in the first place.

“I don’t believe that there’s anything immediately in terms of the statutory authority or constitutional authority that we can do…But, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and do what’s right for students,” Gardner said.

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