Thursday, August 25, 2011
Strike may begin Friday if union rejects proposal today
By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University’s faculty union and the administration differ on what the university’s last, best offer — to be voted on this afternoon — would cost faculty members.
The union is expected to begin voting about 4 p.m. If the members vote to accept the administration’s proposal, there will be no strike. If they reject it, a strike will begin Friday.
“While the union leaders believe that this is a terrible proposal and that YSU can afford to do better by its faculty, we are a democratic organization,” faculty union president Julia Gergits said in a statement. “We will hold a secret ballot vote and abide by the will of our members.”
The university released its own statement saying that if the faculty ratifies the proposal, the fall semester will begin as scheduled Monday, and financial aid to students can be disbursed.
“We recognize that this is a difficult and concessionary contract that calls for sacrifice from our faculty,” the university said. “These are, as we have said many times before, unprecedented economic times for the university, the state and the nation that call for sacrifice across the board in order for the university to live within its means this year and into the future. We do not relish needing to ask for these types of concessions, but it is necessary in light of the enormous budgetary challenges that we face.”
The union said the proposal calls for take-home pay cuts of $5,000 to $10,000 per faculty member.
Ron Cole, a YSU spokesman, said the overall reduction in take-home pay for faculty members is less than $1,000 per member per year. That’s due to the increased health-care contribution, he said.
Even if a reduction in pay for summer school instruction is included, Cole said, the $5,000 to $10,000 figure cited by the faculty is high.
Sherry Linkon, a union spokeswoman, said that health-care contributions and pay for summer work continue to be sticking points.
Linkon said that both Gergits and Stan Guzell, chief faculty negotiator, were both trying to decide whether to make a recommendation regarding the offer to the membership.
“I know they were both very disappointed with the offer,” she said.
The union does have the option of continuing to work without a contract, but that is probably unlikely, Linkon said. The union already took a strike authorization vote, she said.
Cole said that YSU’s 80-some non-union administrators already have accepted a pay freeze for this year and will pay the same health care contribution that the faculty pays. That’s a target that the university will attempt to negotiate into other unions’ contracts as well.
“We must and will all share in helping the university to regain its financial footing,” the university’s statement said.
Under the proposal, the university still will pick up 85 percent to 90 percent of each employee’s health-care costs over the course of the three-year contract, it said.
“Finally, we remain disappointed that the faculty union continues to denigrate the university’s administration,” the statement said. “We have been publicly called inept, dishonest and manipulative. In all of our communications, we have tried to take the high road, understanding that this dispute eventually will be resolved and that all of us – administration, faculty and staff – will need to work together, as colleagues to serve our students and community.”
The faculty strike notice was filed after the university’s board of trustees rejected a fact-finder’s report for a new three-year contract. The faculty had accepted the report, which called for raises of 0 percent, 1 percent and 2 percent in the contract’s three years as well as a reduction in the amount paid to faculty for summer school instruction and an increase in their health-insurance contribution.
The minimum salaries for faculty are $75,674 for professors, $64,215 for associate professors, $51,238 for assistant professors and $38,689 for instructors.
“We feel a strike is our best bargaining chip and that this is the time to put pressure on the university,” Linkon said. “We know and we’re very sorry that it also puts pressure on the students.”
She said the faculty would work with students to ensure they’re not penalized. For example, when classes do start, if students don’t have their books because they couldn’t afford them due to the delay in financial aid and scholarship disbursement, professors won’t penalize those students.
Linkon acknowledged that, in this economic climate, a strike could affect public perception of the faculty. It also will affect faculty members’ finances, as the membership would not receive strike pay.
YSU’s announcement last week that financial aid and scholarship payments to students would be delayed brought complaints from students who said they rely on the money for necessities such as rent and utility payments. Students will have a rally to “End the Freeze” from 2 to 4 p.m. today in the area between Maag Library and Tod Hall.
A letter Wednesday to students from Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs, said the university’s ability to help with the assistance they need is limited.
The university is expecting about $60 million sent from the federal government for the fall semester.
“More than $20 million is to be refunded immediately to more than 9,000 students for their living expenses,” Fahey wrote. “Frankly, the size of the problem is overwhelming. The university does not have an alternate source of funds that would enable us to provide a temporary loan for students until their aid is available.”
He said YSU is working with landlords, utility companies and social-service agencies to find ways to help students.
Help Hotline has volunteered to help students with resource referrals for rent, utilities, prescriptions and other public assistance needs, the letter says.
Several utility companies and some landlords have indicated they will extend the grace period for students awaiting aid if student names and account information are provided.
YSU delayed scholarship and financial aid payments on the advice of the U.S. Department of Education because the start date for fall classes is uncertain.
“Based on our discussion, I would recommend that you not disburse any funds in advance of the Fall payment period until you know for certain when classes, and thus the payment period, will begin,” said an email from a training officer at the Chicago regional office of federal student aid, U.S. DOE.
“The regulation is very clear that Title IV funds (federal student aid) may not be disbursed prior to the 10th day before the first day of classes for the payment period. Delaying disbursements will ensure that Youngstown State University will not run afoul of any of the Title IV Cash Management regulations.”
The email was sent to Elaine Ruse, YSU director of financial aid and scholarships.