The union president says a strike would shut down the university.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University's nonfaculty union overwhelmingly rejected a fact finder's report on a three-year contract proposal and set an Aug. 16 strike date.
Christine Domhoff, president of the 400-member YSU Association of Classified Employees union, predicted that the strike would shut down the campus.
Walt Ulbricht, executive director of YSU's office of marketing and communications, said the university has a "contingency plan" if ACE follows through with a strike. He declined Friday to discuss that plan, but said, "We intend to maintain essential university operations."
ACE has pledges from numerous unions and labor organizations to honor its picket line, Domhoff said.
Union members voted Friday 316 to 19 to reject the recommendations of fact finder Norman Harlan of Montgomery, W.Va. Also, there was one ballot with no vote on it.
By a unanimous voice vote July 19, the union authorized its executive committee to declare a strike if the fact finder's report was rejected.
The executive committee told YSU officials on July 29 that the strike would begin Aug. 16, the day after the union's current three-year deal expires, if the report was rejected. The union is required under state law to give YSU at least 10 days' notice of a strike.
While union members didn't agree with many of Harlan's recommendations, the one that raised the most objections was salaries, Domhoff said.
YSU had offered the union raises in their base pay of 2 percent in the first year, 2.2 percent in the second year, and 3 percent in the third year. The union wanted 5 percent annual raises.
Harlan recommended annual raises of 2 percent, 2.5 percent and 3 percent.
Domhoff said YSU gave a 3 percent annual raise last month to about 100 high-level professional administrative employees who don't belong to a union.
Those employees also will pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums beginning in January.
Harlan's recommendation on health insurance was ACE members would pay 5 percent of their insurance premiums -- about $54 a month right now -- in the third year of the deal, and nothing during the first two years. Also, employees hired on or after Aug. 16 would pay 5 percent immediately, Harlan recommended.
Domhoff said high-level administrators making six-figure salaries could afford to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, but her union members, who make much less, cannot afford it.
"With the insurance premiums, we'd have negative income in the third year," she said. "Also, we wouldn't consider it without a dollar cap."
Union members don't pay anything in health care contributions currently, and wanted that provision to remain in a new three-year deal. YSU negotiators want ACE members to pay nothing in the first year, 5 percent of the premiums in the second year, and 10 percent in the third year.
In his report, Harlan wrote that he is "acutely aware of the importance of a comprehensive group insurance package" because he's paid the full cost of his health insurance for 25 years. He wrote that his premiums sky-rocketed even though he managed his plan carefully.
"It is also a fact when health insurance costs become prohibitive, they adversely impact upon wages and other benefits," he wrote.
The YSU Board of Trustees will meet, presumably in executive session, at 4 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the fact finder report, and to discuss contract negotiations with ACE, Ulbricht said.
"The university remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached before Aug. 16 ... and well before fall semester classes begin" on Aug. 29, Ulbricht said.
James Wilkins, YSU's chief negotiator on this contract, had described the fact finder's recommendations as a "very fair settlement."
ACE represents 400 nonfaculty employees at YSU including computer programmers, system analysts, secretaries, maintenance and custodial workers, food service employees and those who work at library.
Domhoff said ACE is ready to resume negotiations with YSU.
"If the university came back to negotiate a fair and equitable contract, we'd be willing to listen," she said. "It's their move to come back with a counteroffer."
The two sides have been far apart for months. Even before formal negotiations, YSU commissioned a $43,000 study that stated ACE employees earn 12.6 percent more in wages than those who do similar jobs in the area.
ACE officials say the survey wasn't accurate because a portion of the data was generic, and the comparisons weren't fair. For example, ACE food service workers were compared to fast-food employees, among others.
Harlan looked at 26 outstanding items in the negotiations. In large part, Harlan recommended the two sides not stray from the provisions of the deal that is expiring Aug. 15.
He rejected ACE proposals to add five additional paid holidays to the 10 full paid holidays its members already get. Harlan also rejected ACE proposals to have YSU pick up its members' contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System, and a plan to receive up to $1,200 annually to their base salary rate for enrollment incentives.
YSU wanted to increase the co-payments for doctor visits from $5 to $15, and to increase the cost of name-brand prescription drugs from $12 to $17. Harlan rejected those changes.
The last strike at YSU was about 15 years ago by the faculty union, and it lasted one day.
The 380-member faculty union is negotiating with YSU officials. That contract expires Aug. 21.