May we suggest that the 400 or so employees of Youngstown State University who will receive bonuses of $4,500 each — that’s right, bonuses — wear a sign around their necks that reads: “Our greed knows no bounds.”
Of course, we do not expect our suggestion to be given a second thought, because this is public sector we’re talking about where the word shame has no meaning.
But it is a shame that in the midst of a national economic recession and local economic implosion individuals with cushy jobs paid for by the taxpayers would receive a sizeable gift for doing nothing more than what anyone lucky enough to get a paycheck these days does: Put in eight hours — in the private sector more than eight — and give thanks to God.
Such is the state of the economy. Latest figures show that the nation will soon hit the 10 percent unemployment rate. That should be a wake up call — but obviously the alarm isn’t being sounded on the campus of Youngstown State University.
As each contract was being negotiated and then being reviewed by the board of trustees — the nine members are appointed by the governor to set university policy — we warned against granting pay increases to faculty, classified employees — they’re the one pocketing the bonuses — and the professional and administrative staff. It was our position then, and it is our position now that having a job that pays much more than the median income in the Mahoning Valley is reward enough.
But we were ignored by the administration and the trustees. The contracts looked like Christmas trees.
And just for good measure, student tuition and fees were increased. In other words, the customers — students and parents who are struggling to make ends meet — were hit with higher costs to attend the urban institution of higher education.
The contract for the Association of Classified Employees that contained the bonus provision — there is a formula that kicks in as full-time student enrollment increases — received only one no vote in the nine-member board of trustees. Trustee Harry Meshel, a veteran politician who once served as the president of the Ohio Senate and is proud of the fact that he grew up in Youngstown among working-class families, strongly objected to what he called the “sugar coating” of the pact. He warned that the university was inviting public criticism by giving in to the unions.
So, what can be done? Nothing — until the contracts are up for renewal.
At that point, there will be a new president at YSU. Dr. David Sweet is leaving on July 1, 2010, and by then his successor will have been hired.
The trustees have a responsibility, first and foremost to the students and those parents helping them with their tuition and then to the taxpayers of the region, to let the new president know they will be fully behind him or her in taking a firm stand in labor negotiations.
Rather than pay raises, concessions must be sought from everyone, and all the Christmas tree ornaments must be removed. In other words, it’s time for YSU to join the real world of work.
Having a job is enough of an incentive for the employees on campus. Comparisons with other institutions — by the way, just about every college and university experienced an increase in enrollment because that’s what happens in a down economy — especially with regard to wages and benefits is nonsensical. YSU is an urban, open admissions institution that serves a five-county area with a large percentage of the residents without college degrees and a higher than average unemployment rate.
That is a reality the new president must quickly recognize and use to formulate a plan of action with regard to labor contracts.
The party is over.