Wright State University’s faculty union took steps this week that would allow it to call for a strike if a deal on a contract is not reached with the school’s administration.
The Wright State chapter of American Association of University Professors on Wednesday unanimously voted to adopt an amendment to its constitution that creates a strike procedure, said AAUP-WSU president Martin Kich. Before this week, there was no reason for a procedure to exist, he said.
“We never had a procedure for calling a strike because in the past we always had a cordial relationship with the administration,” Kich said.
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Wright State’s administration responded to the threat of a strike for the first time on Thursday, saying that “both practically and legally, a strike is not imminent.”
“Some of the faculty at Wright State, like many public universities in Ohio, are unionized and therefore have the ability to bargain a new collective contract every few years upon the expiration of the prior contract. At times the process has been quick and easy, other times it has been more challenging,” a university statement reads. “Regardless, there has never been a strike at Wright State and there has been one short strike at one Ohio public university since the collective bargaining law went into effect.”
Youngstown State University is the only other state school school to have ever gone on strike in Ohio. The strike only lasted for a few hours in August 2011, according to the The Vindicator.
Kich first brought up the possibility of a strike in October, though he maintains it would still only be a last resort. The union represents around 584 faculty members and not all faculty are in the union, a university spokesman said.
“We would never call a strike unless it was very clear that it was what our members wanted,” Kich said.
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Contract negotiations between Wright State and its faculty have been stalled since March when the school brought in an attorney to continue talks. The resignation of president David Hopkins and the school’s budget trouble also slowed negotiations, Kich has said.
Although the contract expired in June an agreement between the union and administration extends it until a new deal is reached, Kich said.
The most recent three-year contract gave faculty around an annual 3 percent raise, Kich said. Kich said he and other union leaders realized any raise would be unlikely for the next year or two, but the dispute at issue is not about pay but about what university officials have referred to as “flexibility.”
“The board is unanimous in its belief that the negotiations are about flexibility,” board chairman Doug Fecher said during a trustees meeting last month. “We truly hope that we can find a way to move forward…We do want to get this thing done.”
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Wright State AAUP leaders fear that the flexibility the school wants is a way to make it easier to lay off faculty and eliminate academic programs. Wright State slashed more than $30.8 million from its budget in June and the university is still trying to cut costs through attrition.
The administration has asked the faculty union to consider having a “global discussion” about contract details, Kich said, which he interprets as the administration wanting to “change the ground rules” of negotiations.
“We don’t want to suffer a permanent worsening of our employment conditions…so the administration can fix a short term budget issue that they created to begin with,” Kich said. “It’s impossible for us to resolve those budget issues by gutting our contract.”
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