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‘No one wins in a strike’ is a phrase worth remembering



Published: Fri, August 26, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Conventional wisdom holds that no one wins in a strike, but surely there would be easily identifiable losers in a strike by faculty members at Youngstown State University.

First among them, the students — consumers who have already paid for the service they anticipate receiving. They would be denied that service until the strike is settled.

The students chose to go to YSU — and even to pay an additional 3.5 percent this year over last. Their loyalty should not be rewarded by a faculty that refuses to recognize the economic reality of the day.

After faculty rejected what the university said was its final offer Thursday, a faculty spokesman said there would be pickets at YSU this morning and no teachers in class for opening day of the semester Monday.

Then late Thursday night came an e-mail in which the spokesman announced that while the faculty rejected the offer, they were not striking.

Levels of sacrifice

Those members of the faculty who supported a strike claim that they are being asked to sacrifice too much. But, apparently, there is no limit to the sacrifices that students should be expected to make.

After the board of trustees rejected a fact-finder’s recommendation for pay raises that would have cost the university $1.3 million, Stanley Guzell, the union’s chief negotiator, shared an observation. The cost would be less than half the amount generated by the most recent tuition increase, which cost each student $250. Mere bagatelle. After all, a student earning minimum wage would only have to work an additional 18 hours or so to cover his or her share of the contract offered the faculty. Perhaps if each worked an additional 25 or 30 hours during the school year, they could provide enough extra cash to satisfy YSU-Ohio Education Association demands.

Faculty are fond of pointing out that they — not the buildings or the books or the computers or the laboratories — are the heart of a university. But even if true, that doesn’t mean it is all about them.

Challenges of the job

We would acknowledge that almost anybody’s job looks easier to those who aren’t doing it than to those who are. Any faculty member would be able to cite tasks they perform and responsibilities they carry that would escape the attention of those of us outside academia.

But there are a lot of people going to work every day — some doing even harder and more challenging work than YSU professors and instructors— who feel they are underpaid. But they’ve chosen a career path for a variety of reasons, and while they might grumble and complain, they do the work that is expected of them.

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. Those are higher than average salaries, but, of course, the people earning them are more highly educated than the average. Still, it’s not a bad wage in the Mahoning Valley. The fringe benefits are not inconsequential, even if members would start paying 10 or 15 percent of the cost of their health care. And there are payments in addition to the base for some, particularly through very attractive summer school assignments, the scaling back of which became a sticking point in negotiations.

The bottom line is that most faculty are being asked to take a two-year wage freeze, with a 2 percent increase in the third and to begin paying a share of their health-care costs that would still be on the low end of what most employees in the private sector pay.

Future is unknown

Given the financial challenges facing the university — some of which can only be imagined with the impending restructuring of Ohio’s commitment to higher education — the board of trustees is only being prudent in seeking the concessions presented to the faculty.

Obviously some majority of the faculty disagrees, and obviously the 40 students who marched in support of the faculty while the vote was being taken would disagree. But the faculty should be asking itself what most of students — the silent and probable majority — as well as the rest of the community, believe.

The faculty was ill-advised to reject the university’s last offer on Thursday and to set the stage for a possible strike. Announcing that they are not on strike is encouraging, but raises questions about the status of a faculty that is now without a contract.

For a few hours Thursday night the faculty had dug themselves into a deep hole with the strike announcement. The subsequent retraction got them only partially out of that hole.

Over the weekend, they would do well to find their way to daylight by holding another ratification vote and approving a contract, even one not to their liking.

As we’ve already observed, it isn’t all about them.


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