Nonfaculty union rejects final offer
YSU will present a final contract offer Thursday to its faculty union.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- After hearing that Youngstown State University negotiators had no interest in a contract counterproposal, not one member of its nonfaculty union voted to accept the university's final offer.
Shortly thereafter, the YSU Association of Classified Employees voted to go on the strike for the first time in its 20-year history.
The union was to begin its strike at 12:01 a.m. today and walk the picket line at 25 or so city sidewalk locations in and around YSU, said Christine Domhoff, ACE president.
A Monday bargaining session failed to bring the two sides together.
ACE presented a counterproposal its members said would save YSU about $800,000 to $900,000 over the life of the three-year contract. However, YSU officials said the counterproposal almost doubled the cost of the university's "last, best and final" offer presented to ACE last week.
The union's counterproposal included a smaller employee contribution toward health care premiums than the university sought, signing bonuses, and changed early retirement incentive language to provide cash payments to eligible retirees instead of YSU purchasing up to two years' service credit.
The union, with about 360 of its 400 members in attendance, held voice votes Monday to reject YSU's final offer and to strike, Domhoff said. The overwhelming feeling going into the meeting was apparent so there was no reason to waste time counting confidential paper ballots, she said.
One indication that ACE would reject YSU's offer was the delivery of strike signs to Beeghly Hall, where the union held its vote, about 10 minutes after the closed-door meeting began.
On YSU's final offer, there were two abstentions with the rest of those in attendance rejecting the proposal, Domhoff said. As for going on strike, only five people opposed it, she said.
"We believed all along that the university wanted us to strike," Domhoff said. "We want to be here to take care of the students. But it was clear to us that they weren't interested in settling."
ACE asked YSU nine times to renew, with no changes, the language of the contract that expired Monday, Domhoff said. The answer was always "no," she said.
The union rejected a fact finder's report Aug. 5 that both sides say was better than YSU's final offer.
The university's final offer was equitable, and its officials want to work out a deal with ACE, said Walt Ulbricht, YSU's executive director of marketing and communications. ACE is willing to return to the bargaining table, Domhoff said.
As it did last week with ACE, the university plans to give its 380-member faculty union a "last, best and final" offer Thursday, Ulbricht said. A deal wasn't struck with the faculty during a Monday negotiating session, he said.
The faculty union has set a strike date for next Tuesday.
The university plans to implement a strike contingency plan today with essential university operations continuing, Ulbricht said.
The contingency plan calls for professional employees to be reassigned to other duties. It also eliminates the university's telephone switchboard, technical support, incoming e-mail, and closes the computer laboratory, the Office of Student Activities and Diversity Programs, and Student Health Services.
The university plans to remain open while ACE members are on strike, and would amend its contingency plan should the faculty go on strike, Ulbricht said. But he wouldn't say Monday if the university would remain open if the faculty union went on strike. The fall semester begins Aug. 29.
The first challenge for YSU is Saturday's summer commencement. The contingency plan calls for police and additional security for the event to make sure it "is not disrupted."
Domhoff said several faculty members would skip the commencement and join ACE on the picket line if a deal isn't worked out by Saturday.
ACE agreed Monday to accept YSU's proposed three-year salary increases of 2 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent.
YSU wanted employee contributions toward health care premiums in the second and third years of the contract -- 1.5 percent of base pay for ACE members with family coverage and 0.75 percent for single coverage. That's about $600 a year for family plan coverage and $300 for a single for an ACE member earning $40,000 a year. ACE countered Monday with a flat annual fee of $260 for family coverage and $130 for single coverage starting in the final year of the contract.
The union agreed to increase its nongeneric prescription drug co-payments, and pay more money if spouses of union members who have health care plans at their place of work use YSU's plan.
ACE asked for annual signing bonuses built into their base pay of $500, $600 and $700. YSU offered no signing bonuses.
YSU offered to buy two years toward retirement for ACE members who qualify. ACE countered Monday, asking for $20,000 cash payments to eligible retirees in the first year, $15,000 in the second year, and $10,000 in the third year.