Strike stuns leader of ACE
There are no negotiating sessions scheduled between the two sides.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Christine Domhoff never thought it would come to this.
While she and about 400 members of the Youngstown State University Association of Classified Employees union voted to go on strike effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Domhoff didn't think the walkout would happen.
About an hour before the strike officially began, Domhoff, the union's president, told her negotiating team that YSU and ACE officials would reach a settlement before the pickets started.
But what Domhoff envisioned as almost impossible occurred -- the nonfaculty union is on strike for the first time in its 20-year history.
Emotional picket line
Even now, as her union members hold strike signs on city sidewalks surrounding YSU, with university police maintaining a presence at several key entrance points to the campus, Domhoff has trouble believing it is happening.
Domhoff also said some ACE members are having a difficult time being on strike because they didn't want to do it. But YSU gave them no choice, she said.
"People are crying on the picket line," Domhoff said. "They're very emotional. We consider YSU to be our family, and they don't understand why the university is doing this to them."
While ACE members will not get violent, Domhoff said she understands why YSU has its police department out in full force as a security measure.
The union voted Monday to go on strike after YSU negotiators declined to accept an ACE counteroffer.
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 instead of YSU buying up to two years' service credit.
The union agreed to accept YSU's proposed three-year salary increases of 2 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent.
ACE negotiators said the counterproposal 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.
There are no negotiation meetings scheduled between the two sides, but Domhoff said she is hopeful a settlement can be reached shortly.
ACE chose this week to strike because there is little activity on campus, Domhoff said. The summer session ended Saturday. The summer commencement is Saturday, and the fall semester begins Aug. 29.
"We're giving them a window of opportunity to resolve this issue before anyone else is impacted," she said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Humility of Mary Health Partners cosponsored a two-day conference that ended Tuesday at YSU called "Protecting Human Subjects in a Changing Research Environment." The conference attracted more than 300 people to campus Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, unionized building trade members refused to work on a number of projects at YSU including the construction of a $12.1 million recreation and wellness center, a $1.6 million bookstore expansion, and a $1.5 million renovation to two parking lots off University Plaza. Those projects were supposed to be finished in the next month.
The union members have obligations to the contractors who hire them, and they decided on their own to not work Tuesday at YSU, said Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council. The council represents 15 local unions including electricians, carpenters, cementers and iron workers.
Ron Cole, a YSU spokesman, said the university is talking with the contractors to resolve the work-stoppage issue. YSU doesn't plan to ask the contractors to replace unionized workers with those who don't belong to a union, Cole said, but the work needs to resume.
The university is operating under a contingency plan with professional employees reassigned to other duties, he said.
"We're moving people to key locations throughout the campus to keep operations going as smoothly as possible with one-third of our work force gone," Cole said.
The university eliminated its telephone switchboard, technical support and incoming e-mail, and closed the computer laboratory, the Office of Student Activities and Diversity Programs, and Student Health Services.
Domhoff said YSU cannot operate like this for very long.
YSU plans to give its 380-member faculty union a "last, best and final" offer Thursday. The faculty union has set a strike date for Tuesday. YSU officials won't say if the university would remain open if the faculty union joined ACE on the picket line.