By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University’s faculty union walked out of contract negotiations this week, and the negotiating committee believes the administration is trying to drive the process to fact-finding, according to a memo distributed Wednesday to membership by the union’s chief negotiator.
“Our new president is inheriting a mess,” Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez wrote in the memo which was obtained by The Vindicator.
The new president, Jim Tressel, officially starts his job July 1.
Ron Cole, a YSU spokesman, declined comment, citing a news blackout regarding negotiations.
Palmer-Fernandez, a professor and director of the Dr. James Dale Ethics Center at YSU, also declined comment, citing the blackout.
The memo says that in the first negotiation meeting, the university’s chief negotiator declared the sides were at an impasse.
“I assumed then that his use of the term ‘impasse’ was just one of those verbal mistakes one sometimes makes, one of those unintended words that come out of one’s mouth and cannot be placed back in,” Palmer-Fernandez wrote in the memo.
Palmer-Fernandez, writes that in hindsight, however, it should have signaled the intention to drive the process to fact-finding and then to bargain down from the report once it’s issued.
On Tuesday, the union walked out of contract negotiations.
Despite meeting 10 times for a total of more than 40 hours, the two sides reached agreement on only four noncontroversial issues.
When the union proposed items meant to “recognize excellence, boost morale and extend respect to faculty at no financial cost,” the administration rejected the proposals without providing reasons, the memo says.
On May 13, the union, the YSU-Ohio Education Association, presented a comprehensive proposal, walked the administrative side through it, and told them they expected a comprehensive counterproposal.
“On May 14, we again stressed the importance of a comprehensive counterproposal — e.g., that we cannot negotiate in any informed manner if all they give us is a dribble of an article here and other there,” Palmer-Fernandez wrote.
On Tuesday, the administration gave proposals on three articles.
“The faculty team caucused, and on our return to the table we informed them that they were unprepared to negotiate, absent [a] comprehensive package,” he wrote.
Another session is set for today.
“The end game for administration is to drive us to fact-finding,” Palmer-Fernandez wrote. “We know this. The administration’s chief negotiator has made it clear that, by his account, fact-finding is a normal part of negotiations. We believe otherwise.”
Annette Burden, union president, says she’s still hopeful.
“I can’t speak for the negotiating team,” she said. “I’m always hopeful.”
But Burden said Palmer-Fernandez’s memo is a fair and accurate assessment of what’s been happening.
The union has twice requested mediation, but the administration declined.
“The administrative team delays bargaining process at all costs, and the cost in August might be very high,” Palmer-Fernandez wrote. “Unless administration takes a different attitude in negotiations we might find ourselves in a situation that could have been avoided.”
Three years ago, negotiations grew heated with the union initially calling and then canceling a strike.