Board urges talks, stands by offers
A federal mediator has set up talks between the university and both unions.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees asked that contract negotiations resume today to end strikes by the university's faculty and classified employees, but the board is unwilling to sweeten the pot for either group.
The board said it stands by the university's latest contract offers.
The response to the board's call to resume talks didn't take long.
The federal mediator handling both cases contacted negotiators from both unions shortly after the board meeting to say talks would be held with the faculty at 10 a.m. today at the Butler Institute of American Art on Wick Avenue and with the classified (nonteaching) employees at 1 p.m.
A spokeswoman for the nonteachers union, the Association of Classified Employees, said a location for its meeting wasn't immediately determined.
The board, acting as its Internal Affairs Committee, held a nearly three-hour closed-door session Wednesday on the status of the strikes by 380 members of the faculty union and 400 members of ACE.
The faculty strike began Tuesday while the classified employees walked out Aug. 16.
At one point, the board called in representatives of the Student Government Association to get their input on the situation before emerging to read a prepared statement that, in essence, held fast to the university's last contract offers, yet urged that negotiations resume today.
The SGA had tried to help, taking action on its own early Wednesday to secure rooms in the Newman Center for the faculty bargaining team to meet with university negotiators beginning at 9 a.m. today and for the ACE team to meet with university representatives beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.
Representatives of both unions had said their teams would be there, ready to negotiate, but the call from the mediator makes that trip unnecessary.
"Both sides have been calling for continued negotiations, but none have been scheduled thus far," SGA President Bob McGovern said early Wednesday, explaining why the SGA took action to see that a time and place were available.
The university said it would release a contingency plan at 3 p.m. today as to what action will be taken should settlements not be reached by the start of classes Monday.
Legislators chime in
State legislators also urged the sides to get together.
Senators Robert Hagan and Marc Dann and Representatives Sylvester Patton, Kenneth Carano, Sandra Stabile-Harwood and John Boccieri jointly sent a letter Wednesday to the president of the ACE union, a chief negotiator for the university and the federal mediator urging that talks resume immediately.
The legislators suggested the sides work around the clock, if necessary, to reach a settlement.
The two unions have scheduled a joint rally for their members at 2 p.m. today at the First Christian Church on Wick Avenue.
Christine Domhoff, ACE president, said the rally will be held even if negotiations are going on elsewhere.
John Pogue, chairman of the board of trustee's Internal Affairs Committee, read a prepared statement expressing the board's "deep disappointment" that the faculty and classified unions rejected university contract offers and went on strike.
Pogue, of Warren, also expressed concern about the current and potential impact the strikes might have on students, the university and the community it serves, and pledged that the board "will work diligently" to resolve the disputes before Monday.
He pointed out that, in a period of declining state support for YSU, the university has had to impose higher-than-desired tuition increases, including a 6-percent increase this year.
The board is ever mindful of its fiduciary responsibilities to maintain a balanced budget and anticipate future financial demands on the university, he said.
"With that in mind, we affirm the positions that the university's negotiating teams have taken. The board believes that the university's contract offers are reasonable, fair and equitable," he said.
The university last offered the faculty a three-year contract with 3-percent annual raises. The proposal also asks that faculty members, for the first time, pay a share of their health care insurance premiums, setting the amount at 1.5 percent of their annual base salary for family coverage and 0.75 percent for single coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2006.
The proposal further calls for a reduction in the pay rate for retired faculty called back to teach classes.
In the ACE negotiations, the two sides had tentatively reached agreement on annual 3-percent raises in a three-year contract, but the university wants ACE employees to begin making the same percentage contributions to their health care premiums beginning Aug. 16.
Domhoff said there are also other issues yet to be resolved.
Bob Hogue, spokesman for the faculty union, said he was encouraged by the board of trustees' call for negotiations but is concerned by the board's stand on the university's contract offer.
If nothing is going to change, there is little point in meeting, he said.