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Why the YSU-OEA blinked



Published: Sun, October 16, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


The faculty union at Youngstown State University went into last-chance contract talks with a roar and came out with a whimper. So much for the blowhards on the hill who had threatened academic Armageddon if university President Dr. Cynthia Anderson and the board of trustees did not give them what a fact-finder had recommended.

Turns out the fact-finder had been breathing the same rarefied air as the faculty.

So, what happened to cause the YSU chapter of the Ohio Education Association to accept the university’s final and best offer, which had been characterized as a bitter pill being forced down the throats of the employees?

Senate Bill 5, that’s what.

With less than a month to go before the voters of Ohio decide whether the new collective bargaining reform law should take effect, opponents of State Issue 2 (SB 5), including the OEA, were not willing to let the YSU faculty become the lightning rod in the waning days of the hard-hitting campaign. Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly have made it clear through their words and deeds that public employees are living in economic La-La Land and have no concept of the real world.

Shock waves

The prospect of professors and others marching around the campus with pickets proclaiming how mistreated they are because their $70,000 average salary hasn’t kept pace with the cost of Chardonnay and Brie sent shock waves through the labor movement in Ohio and the nation. There are whispers the National Education Association sent word that a strike was out of the question, while the OEA, which mostly represents teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade, sought to distance itself from what was going on at YSU. It is instructive that most faculty around the country are represented by the American Association of University Professors. Throughout the contract talks, the blowhards insisted that peer comparisons with regard to salaries, benefits and work conditions were justified. Yet, their union is mostly made up of school teachers.

But the YSU-OEA’s decision to accept the administration’s final and best offer was also based on pragmatism. Although polls have consistently shown that a majority of the voters oppose State Issue 2 (SB 5) and believe Gov. Kasich and his GOP cohorts overreached, the margin between the yes and no votes is getting smaller.

It is anybody’s guess what will happen on Nov. 8, but the faculty at YSU obviously didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

Without a contract spelling out every aspect of employment, including compensation and workplace rules, the faculty would have been at the mercy of the administration with the passage of State Issue 2.

It’s why public employee unions around the state have been rushing to finalize new contracts that have been anything but lucrative. Wage freezes and benefit concessions have been the order of the day, but public employees have been eager to accept a sure thing rather than the uncertainty that comes with the new collective bargaining law. At the very least, they will have job security for three years. That is important in the midst of an economic downturn.

While there have been calls for reconciliation and Kumbaya gatherings at YSU, the harshness of the rhetoric during the contract talks will not soon be forgotten.

Fallout

Indeed, the faculty may have lost one of its biggest supporters, President Anderson. She came up through the ranks and was vice president for student affairs when she threw her hat in the presidential ring — with the strong backing of senior faculty members.

But once in the executive suite, Anderson let it be known that she was not going to be a push over for any one interest group on campus — much to the chagrin of the faculty.

They made her salary an issue during the negotiations, even though there was barely a peep out of them when the trustees first made public the terms of her employment.

The faculty threatened a strike and the administration stood firm. Other unions on campus will march in lockstep.

But if Issue 2 is confirmed by the voters and Ohio’s three decades’ long collective bargaining law is changed, the folks on the hill can take solace from the fact that they dodged a bullet.

On the other hand, the community has seen the faculty for what they are: (Fill in your description here).


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