YSU Union leaders criticize lack of progress in talks
The faculty union president said YSU's contract offer is ridiculous, unprofessional and an insult.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Less than six weeks before fall semester classes begin, the leaders of Youngstown State University's two biggest employee unions are starting to use the "S" word: strike.
"I never lose hope, but today things don't appear to be on solid ground," Christine Domhoff, chief negotiator for YSU's classified union, said Tuesday afternoon.
"We are on a collision course," said Dr. John Russo, faculty union president.
The union leaders called on YSU trustees to raise tuition and to solicit the support of the university's $132 million endowment fund to help ease YSU's financial woes and speed up negotiations.
Russo said the contract talks remind him of 1989, when faculty staged a one-day strike, the only one in YSU's history. Russo was president of the bargaining unit then, too.
"We have made so little progress in these negotiations," he said. "The university has been so unprepared. ... It's been embarrassing [and] shocking, to say the least."
Russo said the contract offers to faculty have been "completely ridiculous [and] unprofessional."
"It is an insult to this faculty ... to have to come to the bargaining table and beg," he added.
The contract for the 377-member classified union expires Aug. 15. The 350-member faculty union's contract runs out Aug. 21. Fall semester classes begin Aug. 26.
YSU President David Sweet characterized the negotiations as "difficult" and said negative publicity could hurt YSU's push to increase enrollment.
"We'll have to all pull through this together," he added.
The classified union called an impasse Monday, and a federal mediator will be called in to oversee negotiations. The faculty union contract is expected to go before a fact-finder next week.
Domhoff said YSU is proposing to cut the wages and benefits of classified employees. Russo said the university's faculty proposal includes minor pay raises and major changes in health insurance coverage.
"I think we have made some constructive offers," Sweet said.
Sweet said the university is re-evaluating the contracts in light of the news last week that YSU will get about $2.7 million less in state funding than anticipated. That's on top of a $3 million cut in state funds announced earlier.
"We've had to step back and take a look at the economic offers," Sweet said.
Domhoff and Russo conceded that the university has budget problems and lashed out at Ohio lawmakers for failing to adequately fund public higher education.
Russo called the latest cuts racist because they mostly affect Ohio's urban universities. "It's a race and class issue," he said.
The union leaders suggested that Sweet look to the YSU Foundation, which holds the university's endowment, for relief. The foundation uses interest from the endowment mostly to provide student scholarships. Foundation leaders have said they do not support bailing YSU out of short-term financial problems.
The two union leaders also suggested raising tuition. Tuition will go up 8.9 percent for the fall semester, and Russo suggested tacking on an additional 10 percent.
Domhoff said she's uncomfortable calling for higher tuition, but "the state has left us no choice."
Sweet said he and his staff are considering many options to make up the latest $2.7 million cut but could not talk publicly about them.
The faculty union also has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State Employment Relations Board, claiming that Sweet violated a mutually agreed press blackout when he placed a half-page advertisement last week in The Jambar, YSU's student newspaper.
Sweet said the ad was in response to a Jambar editorial about the number of administrators on campus and that he does not consider it to be a violation.