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Youngstown State University cannot afford faculty strike

Published: Sun, August 14, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

A federal mediator who sat in on contract talks last spring between Youngstown State University and its faculty union is reportedly willing to help the two sides reach an agreement, thereby avoiding labor strife. There can be no doubt that a strike in the midst of a national recession would cause permanent damage to the university’s fiscal well-being and would bring unwanted attention from the Ohio Board of Regents and the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich.

There must be a meeting of the minds and a recognition by all parties that YSU’s stakeholders, the students, their parents and the taxpayers, are sacrificing to ensure the financial stability and viability of the institution. It’s time for the administration, the faculty, and classified and professional staff to show their appreciation by ensuring that classes start on time Aug. 29.

At issue is a fact-finder’s report that the board of trustees rejected Friday as being financially unsustainable. The faculty union accepted the report despite its contention that the concessions they’re agreeing to are unnecessary because the university is exaggerating its expenses and understating revenue.

But the bottom line is that YSU does not have the money to pay for all the things the faculty union demanded during negotiations, let alone the recommendations of the fact finder.

Indeed, Howard D. Silver wrote in his report:

“Because the fact finder believes that local, regional and state economies are still recovering from a deep recession, and because Youngstown State University faces a 1.67 million dollar operating deficit in the coming year, the fact finder is inclined to tread lightly among long-standing circumstances between the parties.”

The details of the report were published in The Vindicator last week. Understandably, members of the board of trustees viewed the pay raises and other benefits granted to the faculty as unaffordable in this economy.

Private perspective

Most of the trustees come from the private sector and as such have a very different view of the world than public-sector employees. When they raised tuition and increased some fees for students, they made it clear that they expected sacrifice from the university community.

Pay raises and other costly benefits aren’t sacrifice — as understood by private-sector employees. The trustees’ rejection of the fact finder’s report does not come as a surprise.

What now? We would hope that the members of the faculty union, who voted to issue a 10-day strike notice, will think long and hard about the consequences of labor unrest on campus.

But comments by union leaders would not support optimism in that regard.

Julia Gergits, union president, characterized as deeply concessionary her membership’s willingness to accept pay raises of 0 percent, 1 percent and 2 percent over three years and a faculty co-pay of 15 percent of the monthly health-care premium.

It would have been, she said, “the worst contract that we’ve ever had, and still the faculty voted to accept it.” That may say more about how good the faculty has had it than how bad this contract would be.

Stanley Guzell, the union’s chief negotiator, noted that the fact-finder’s recommendations would have cost YSU $1.3 million — less than half the amount generated by the 3.5 percent tuition increase effective this fall.

That ignores one thing: That the faculty union is not the only union with which the board of trustees must negotiate. And, it implies another: That when times are tough, it is the responsibility of the students (or their tuition-paying parents) to support the faculty in the style to which it has become accustomed.

Students are paying dearly

Over the last two years, students have been hit with nearly $500 in tuition increases and more in ancillary fees. The concessions being asked from the faculty pale compared to the additional burden being carried by students.

To be sure, the trustees have not strengthened their negotiating position with the union by some of the raises they have approved for administrators in recent years. The trustees and the administrators who were the beneficiaries of far more generous raises than those offered the faculty should have set a better example.

Nonetheless, the trustees’ determination that one level of compensation was merited for top administrators does not mean that the university can afford to pay whatever the faculty wants or demands.

The administration and faculty should welcome a federal mediator willing to work with both parties to find a solution. There isn’t room for any mistakes.

The faculty union’s allegiance is to its membership; the trustees must protect the interest of the university, the students and the public.

The last time YSU faced an impasse, then-President Dr. David Sweet was loathe to see a strike on the eve of YSU’s centennial. That provided the unions with a once-in-a-lifetime advantage.

This time, in this economy, the greater burden falls on the union.

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