At YSU, ‘me-too’ defines greed

By Bertram de Souza

If employees at Youngstown State University had not shown such unadulterated greed in gorging themselves on pay raises in the midst of a national economic recession that has hit the Mahoning Valley harder than most regions in the state, students would not have to bear the burden of a 3.5 percent tuition increase in the coming academic year.

On Tuesday, the board of trustees, under the guidance and direction of President David Sweet and members of his Cabinet, approved raising the undergraduate yearly tuition of $6,721 by $235 starting this fall. At the same, the trustees approved a new three-year contract for the professional and administrative staff. It’s loaded with increases of 3 percent for 2009-10, 4 percent for 2010-11 and 3.5 percent for 2011-12 and other goodies.

Boosting the base

For example, for a full-time employee who has been at YSU for at least 20 years, there is a $50 longevity payment for each year of service. That sum is added to the base salary, upon which the pay raises are calculated.

A full-time employee with less than 20 years will receive a lump-sum bonus of $50 for each year of service. The sum, however, will be a one-time payment.

Employees are also rewarded for earning advanced degrees — love for learning? Get real. More like love of earning. And, they will get a boatload of holidays. As for the health-care and retirement benefits, they’re beyond the comprehension of the poor slobs in the private sector.

But the Association of Professional/Administrative Staff’s three-year contract approved by the trustees is merely a continuation of the giveaways that began with the faculty contract, followed by the one with the Association of Classified Employees. That pact has generated both controversy and lawsuits. An agreement with the police union will soon be inked.

So it goes. Me-too, me-too, me-too.

Faculty union leaders went into negotiations knowing that the university did not want a strike while it was celebrating its 100th anniversary last year. The contract that was subsequently approved by all but one member of the board of trustees was so lucrative that the other unions saw the handwriting on the wall: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

The one trustee who voted against that contract was Don Cagigas, a retired bank executive and the head of United Way. Cagigas’ reason for voting no was unambiguous: Youngstown State cannot afford such an expensive three-year pact. His term on the board has expired.

For those who view the $235 tuition increase as no big deal, consider this:

For the 2008-09 school year, there was a 2.5 percent increase in faculty base salary. But that’s not all. By rank, there was a bonus, which resulted in a full professor, for instance, receiving $1,800 that was added to the base salary.

Then, a member of the faculty union hired before June 1, 2008, received a longevity increase of $50 for each year of service. Thus, a faculty member with 30 years received $1,500 — that also was added to the base salary.

By some calculations, the entire first-year package resulted in an 8 percent increase for veteran professors.

In the next two years of the contract, the faculty will receive boosts of 3.5 percent to their new base salaries.

Once the administration and trustees agreed to this contract, the stage was set for the “me-too” chorus. And unless someone on campus steps forward and says “Enough!” the labor contracts will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

A ‘no’ vote

Last week, one trustee did say no. It is no surprise that the folks at YSU aren’t wild about Harry — Meshel, that is, a veteran politician who once served as president of the Ohio Senate. Meshel also turned thumbs down on the tuition increase. His reasoning was just as cogent as that of Cagigas: It is patently unfair for the university to fatten the wallets of the employees, while requiring students to pay more in tuition.

The trustees should have demanded concessions in the APAS contract. A wage freeze, or even a giveback, would have sent a strong message to the community at large and the campus population in particular.

Then they could have asked the other unions to reopen their contracts to negotiate concessions.

That kind of “me-too” is the good kind.

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