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Will YSU faculty take strike vote?

Published: Sun, August 7, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

As ridiculous as it may seem, there are rumblings that the faculty union at Youngstown State University will reject a fact-finder’s report pertaining to a new contract and urge members to vote to strike.

The report is supposed to be released this week. and while the details are unknown, it appears faculty members are anticipating findings that would require them to make concessions. Despite YSU’s low standing among the Ohio’s 12 public universities and colleges, professors have considered themselves a preferred class.

They have been unwilling to acknowledge that significant cuts in spending are necessary in order to address the budgetary shortfall at YSU caused by a decrease in state funding.

Although the university trustees increased tuition for the coming semester by 3.5 percent, the administration of President Cynthia Anderson is still expecting a budget deficit in fiscal 2011-12.

Dr. Anderson, who was vice president of student affairs before she became president and always worked well with all the employee groups on campus, made it clear from the outset that pay raises were a non-starter in this round of labor talks.

Health-care premiums

Indeed, the administration wants employees to pay a higher percentage of the health-care premiums and also agree to changes in some of the work rules.

It would be an understatement to say that the demands have gone over like a lead balloon. The reports from campus suggest the faculty may be willing to temper its demands for raises, but isn’t willing to give up on work practices that have given members a financial windfall.

As was noted in this space last month, summer school has been a boondoggle for professors who get paid a percentage of their annual salaries, as opposed to a flat rate, which is what limited service instructors receive.

The administration also wants to change the extended teaching program, which now guarantees a certain number of hours for professors who retire. YSU cannot afford to keep paying for such luxuries.

But while there is concern in Tod Hall about a possible strike vote, Anderson and the trustees have an ally that could temper the willingness of the faculty to go for broke.

Senate Bill 5, designed by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, will be on the November general election ballot for a referendum vote.

Republicans in the Legislature approved SB 5 and Gov. Kasich signed it into law. It will take effect if Ohioans vote to keep it on the books.

However, the opponents of the collective bargaining reform law, led by We Are Ohio, got a major boost when a special committee reviewing the referendum language determined that a “No” vote would repeal SB 5 — it will be State Issue 2 on the ballot.

Long-time observers of Ohio politics, including Dr. William Binning, former chairman of YSU’s political science department, former chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party and a member of the late Gov. James A. Rhodes’ inner circle, believe that regardless of how an issue is worded, the side that has “No” has a clear advantage.

Thus, opponents of SB 5 hit the streets this weekend conducting a door-to-door voter education campaign. They will be providing Ohioans with the details of Issue 2 and will explain why a “No” vote is essential.

Millions of dollars

Given that the backers of SB 5, led by Building a Better Ohio, intend to spend $20 million to make sure that the GOP’s collective bargaining reform law is confirmed by the voters, We Are Ohio and the national labor unions that are putting up millions of dollars to kill the law will not take kindly to a distraction, such as a YSU faculty strike vote.

Not only would it be a public relations nightmare, but voters in the blue-collar Mahoning Valley who would otherwise have been against SB 5 will feel betrayed by the greed and myopia of the YSU community.

The backlash could determine voter turnout in the Valley on Nov. 8.

In the overall scheme of things, preserving the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Ohio is a lot more important than fattening the wallets of pampered faculty on the campus of YSU. That’s the message the union will hear.

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