By Julia Gergits
For the past eight months, the faculty at Youngstown State University have been working hard to reach a fair and reasonable agreement with the administration and board of trustees, an agreement that helps to address the university’s financial concerns while also providing good health care coverage and minimizing the economic loss to our families. The faculty have made significant efforts to collaborate with the administration and board in the interests of the university, our students, and the community:
1) We entered negotiations in February with proposals designed to control costs, including proposals in which we offered to give up long-standing benefits.
2) We voted to accept the recommendations of an impartial fact finder — recommendations that would have cost individual faculty members several thousand dollars a year and saved YSU about $3 million. The university could have recouped half of its claimed budget deficit from fewer than half of its employees.
3) After rejecting the administration’s even more concessionary last offer, we called off a planned strike. That allowed students to receive financial aid and the semester to begin on time.
4) We have continued working without a contract, hoping that the board will work with us to develop a contract we can accept. Negotiations continue, and our representatives have offered several proposals that address our concerns within the financial parameters laid out by the board. Our proposals have been rejected.
Meanwhile, YSU President Dr. Cynthia Anderson and board of trustees Chair Dr. Sundershan Garg have insisted that they have the best interests of the university at heart. Yet they have done little to resolve the situation.
We wish to suggest a few actions they could take:
1) Fire the lawyers. After the 2005 faculty and staff strike, a joint panel recommended that YSU should not hire an outside lawyer to handle negotiations. Ignoring that recommendation, the administration hired a high-priced Cleveland law firm with a reputation for breaking unions. Completing negotiations without the lawyer would create a more productive atmosphere and save money.
2) Develop reasonable estimates of the health care premium for all three years of the contract. Most companies budget for health care costs on the basis of past patterns; YSU could too, if its leaders chose to.
3) Make a modest compromise. The faculty have agreed to accept the concessions in the fact finder’s report. The difference between that report and the administration’s last offer is not that great.
If the administration and board of trustees will take these steps, the campus community can begin the hard work of re-establishing working partnerships. YSU’s more than 400 faculty want to focus our attention on the same things Dr. Garg and Dr. Anderson say they value: helping our students get a high quality education and contributing to the community through research and professional expertise.
The writer is president of the Youngstown State University-Ohio Education Association.