Retirees Association

AAUP-WSU: An Open Letter to the Staff of Wright State University

Rudy Fichtenbaum

An Open Letter to the Staff of Wright State University

Colleagues, the administration and the Board of Trustees have shared with you the materials that they sent the fact finder (PDF). We, of course, take issue with their position, and this letter to you to address some of our concerns.  Staff at Wright State should know that when bargaining unit members refer to “the administration” they are not referring to their valued colleagues working as staff at WSU.

Background: What Is Going On?

On Monday and Tuesday, October 8th and 9th, representatives from AAUP-WSU met with representatives of the administration/Board of Trustees to see if we could reach a negotiated settlement before receiving a fact-finder’s report. This resumption of negotiations was spurred by a letter written by Marty Kich, President of AAUP-WSU, to President Schrader on May 29, 2018.

The AAUP-WSU informed the administration/Board that we were prepared to offer significant financial concessions in the area of health benefits as well as a number of other areas, were prepared to accept no raises for three years, and to agree to an early retirement plan that the administration/Board wanted. In exchange, we asked that the administration/Board agree to keep current contract language in a number of areas, including retrenchment, workload, appointment and promotion for NTE faculty, merit pay, and summer school. We also asked that the administration/Board withdraw their demand that we give up the right to negotiate over healthcare and that they drop their proposal for “cost saving days.” “Cost savings days” are days where faculty come to work and teach their classes, hold office hours, and attend meetings, but do not get paid. They are similar to furloughs except employees who are furloughed don’t have to work.

So, we asked the administration/Board to give us a number for health-care and we would see if we could give them what they felt they needed to address the financial crisis  they created. To our surprise, they told us there is no number. The choice they gave us was we could keep tenure only if we gave up the right to bargain over healthcare.

We will not bargain over the existence of tenure at Wright State University. There is no other University in Ohio, either unionized or not, that does not have tenure. Tenure exists to protect academic freedom which is essential to the existence of a university because it protects our rights to teach and to discuss controversial ideas in classrooms and to pursue research that seeks the truth even if the results challenge vested interests. It also protects our right to speak out about the misplaced priorities of our administration/Board and their mismanagement of our institution without fear of retribution. Our current retrenchment language is similar to the retrenchment language at every other university in Ohio.

Why do they want us to give up the right to bargain over healthcare? So they can impose on the faculty the same healthcare plan that they have imposed on non-represented employees. As you are no doubt painfully aware, premiums for non-represented employees increased about 50% in 2018 unless you were a top administrator making over $100,000 per year. The administration eliminated the $100,000 and above bracket, putting themselves in the same bracket as those making $75,000 a year and in so doing minimized their own personal costs. There are 121 administrators or people who work at WSRI who earn more than $100,000 at Wright State. They earn an average salary of $148,895 and their total payroll is a little over $18 million. They should be paying their fair share of the cost of healthcare by paying premiums that reflect their salaries rather than the same premiums as someone who earns $75,000 a year. Under our plan we still have a bracket for faculty who earn over $100,000 and as part of the concession we were willing to make to get a contract we offered to create brackets for faculty earning 100,000 to $124,999 and $125,000 to $149,999 and $150,000 and above.

At the same time that they increased premiums, the administration and Board increased co-insurance, copayments, and deductibles which transfers the cost of healthcare on to people who are sick. What the administration/Board are doing is, every year, forcing employees who are sick to pay a larger and larger percentage of the cost. In plain English, if you are sick, you pay more, and if you are well, you pay less. That is not insurance. Insurance is when we all pay into a pool, and when someone gets sick, we take care of them. We are being asked to trade fairness and caring for those who need help for the “right” to pay even more while the top administrators pay proportionally less.

What Has the Union Ever Done for You?

Why should other employees at Wright State care what happens to the faculty? After all, you are already paying more for healthcare. The reason you should care is that if the administration/Board can unilaterally change healthcare benefits with 60 days’ notice, even in the middle of the calendar year, they will use healthcare spending as a form of reserves to deal with short-falls in revenue due to declining enrollment. They are not going increase what you pay for healthcare because the cost of healthcare is going up. They are going to raise what you pay for health care to cover any revenue shortfalls. That is why they refused to give us a number.

Until recently, the administration has always negotiated health and other benefits with AAUP-WSU and then given everyone else the same benefits we negotiated. Our members pay 0.7% of their salaries in dues to have a union. This gives us the right to engage in collective bargaining as opposed to collective begging.

  • Before we had a union, there was no vision insurance for any employee at WSU. We were the only university in Ohio without vision insurance.
  • Our union negotiated the $250 increase in dental payments that was extended to every employee at WSU.
  • We were the only university in Ohio that did not cover 100% of preventive dental services until AAUP-WSU negotiated this benefit for our members. This is now a benefit that all employees at WSU currently enjoy.
  • We were the only university that did not cover the cost of dental sealants until we negotiated that benefit.
  • Without AAUP-WSU, there would have been no domestic partner benefits at WSU.
  • It was our union that negotiated adoption benefits that are now enjoyed by all employees at WSU.
  • AAUP-WSU also negotiated for paid parental leave, a benefit that is now available to all employees.

Our members paid to win these benefits, which have now been extended to all other employees. We are glad that other employees have gotten these benefits because all employees deserve them.

But now the administration/Board wants to divide and conquer its employees. So, they started by picking on the most vulnerable employees: those who are not represented by a union. They eliminated your bumping rights and unilaterally cut your severance pay.  They unilaterally raised your health insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums. They are charging you more for specialty drugs costs, and they are not finished cutting your health care benefits. We think you are being unfairly treated by the administration, and as we fight to protect faculty, we are also vocal in our defense about how all our colleagues—faculty and staff—are being treated.

What Are They Spending the Money On?

The administration and the Board have hired expensive consultants, such as Ron Wine and Ruffalo Noel Levitz and have paid over a quarter of a million dollars to have an outside attorney from Baker and Hosteler represent them in our contract negotiations. We will post the invoices the University has received (PDF) on our website. Although the agreement with Baker and Hostetler, which we will also post, specifies an hourly billing rate, there are no hours listed on any of the invoices.

The administration/Board transferred the CEO of Double Bowler, who earns over $250,000 a year, onto the WSU payroll to create the appearance that Double Bowler has had revenues in excess of expenses, while at the same time the Board has voted to make an exception to its affiliated entities policies for Double Bowler because they are still losing money. The only reason that their revenues exceed expenses is that WSU pays rent to Double Bowler for buildings that were purchased with WSU funds and, because that is still not enough, gives them direct subsidies. One of the buildings owned by Double Bowler deserves special mention. Double Bowler purchased the old Wright Patt Credit Union four months after the CEO of the Wright Patt Credit Union became a member of the Board of Trustees. Clearly that makes a mockery out of the conflict of interest policy that is now read at Board meetings. They did all of this while laying off employees at WSU, including faculty.

They have steadfastly refused to cut spending on intercollegiate athletics and, in fact, increased spending in that area by $1.6 million, while cutting $50 million in spending elsewhere in the university. They continually repeat the canard that athletics increases enrollment while enrollment is declining and claim they cannot cut athletic spending because we are already at the minimum number of sports to remain in Division I. But one-third of the spending in intercollegiate athletics is for administration and so surely there are cuts that can be made. Even as Raider fans, we must ask whether Division I standing is more important than the financial survival of the University.

After starting their attack on the most vulnerable employees, those not represented by a union, they then turned their sights to the faculty. As part of their campaign to deflect blame from the misplaced priorities and mismanagement, the administration and the Board started promoting the myth that sacrifices were being made by every group of employees except those represented by AAUP-WSU.

How Many Faculty Are There?  The Administration Doesn’t Really Know.

As part of their divide and conquer strategy, the administration/Board claimed that spending on instruction is the only area of spending that is increasing at the University and blame it on the faculty represented by AAUP-WSU. They have promoted a graph that shows a decline in faculty of just 5% while other employee groups showed double digit declines. But the truth is that there are 92 fewer faculty in our bargaining unit than there were 2 years ago, about a 14% decline. And to repeat we have had members that we represent laid off. Some of the reductions in faculty has come through attrition i.e., retirements, but some has come from faculty leaving WSU because of the way the administration and Board treat faculty and staff. Our payroll, with benefits, has declined by $3.6 million. We know this because we track the salary of every member of our bargaining unit. And, of course, we also know how much our benefits cost the University. So, if instructional costs are going up it is not because of what the administration/Board pays Bargaining Unit Faculty.

So where does the 5% figure come from? We have repeatedly asked the administration/Board to tell us exactly who they are counting as faculty but they have refused to give us this information. What are they hiding? If you look at the number of faculty that Wright State reported to the Integrated Post-Secondary Data Survey (IPEDS) conducted by the Department of Education, in 2016 (the latest year available) they reported 351 tenured faculty, 151 on the tenure track and 167 on annual contracts. If you subtract out all of the top administrators with tenure (the president, provosts and deans -- all non-teaching positions) and you subtract out department chairs who are not Bargaining Unit Faculty you get 584 faculty which was close to the size of our bargaining unit in 2016. But the administration/Board also reports a total of 873 full time faculty. Who are the other 224 faculty? They could be faculty in the School of Medicine and the School of Professional Psychology because they do not have tenure and are not in our bargaining unit. So, let’s do a little math. If the size of the faculty declined only by 5%, that would be a decline of 44 faculty. But our bargaining unit is down by 92. So, this means that the administration/Board hired an additional 48 faculty in the School of Medicine and the School of Professional Psychology. Another possibility is that the administration/Board is counting part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants. They report having 439 part-time faculty and 535 graduate teaching assistants. Add them to the full-time faculty and you have a faculty of 1,847 and a 5% cut is 92 faculty. How convenient. The administration knows they are reducing the size of our bargaining unit by 14% but, because they want to tell the public that they are protecting the academic mission and more importantly they want to turn the staff against the faculty, they report a 5% decline in faculty. Is this what happened? The truth is we don’t know because the administration/Board is keeping their information secret.

Healthcare Costs

Next let us look at a comparison of the cost of healthcare in Ohio and costs at WSU. All of the Ohio data is from Health Insurance 2018: The Cost of Health Insurance in Ohio’s Public Sector which is put out by the State Employee Relations Board (SERB). Some of the information will compare costs by region and the remainder will be comparisons with public universities and colleges in Ohio.

Dayton has the third lowest average annual cost from Medical and Prescription Drugs at $14,968 and for prescription drugs. Only Toledo and Cincinnati had lower costs among the eight regions of Ohio.

Average medical premium at colleges and universities in Ohio is $617 per month for single and $1,659 for families. At Wright State, the cost for single coverage is $568 and for family coverage it is $1,704. So, costs are lower for single coverage and slightly higher for family coverage. The average employee contribution to these premiums is $84 for single and $252 for family. But what is the contribution at WSU? For tier 2 the middle tier, single coverage costs $114 and for family coverage it costs $342. Our single premium is 36% higher, and the family premium is also 36% higher.

In Ohio, for public employees in self-insured plans the average spending per employee per year (PEPY) is $15,347. According to data produced by WSU’s healthcare consultant Horan, WSU’s PEPY was $14,953 in 2017 and for 2018 is running at $14,394. That means that in in 2018 healthcare costs per employee are 6.7% below the state average.  These numbers belie the administration/Board’s claims that healthcare spending is out-of-control. Despite the administration/Board’s hysteria over the exploding cost of healthcare and their proposal to adjust employee’s health coverage with just 60 days’ notice in the middle of the year, health care cost at WSU are below the state average for self-insured plans.

According to the SERB report, average medical premiums increased 4.6% in 2018 and average wages went up 2.2%. In 2018 the overall rate of inflation was 2.1% and medical inflation was 1.8%.

The median in-network out of pocket maximum at colleges and universities for single coverage is $3,000 and for family coverage is $6,000. Compare that to WSU’s $4,000 for single coverage and $8,000 for family coverage. However, WSU is unique in being the only university in Ohio that has non-embedded deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. What does this mean? It means the only people to whom the single rates apply are those who cover only one individual. Everyone else automatically pays the family deductible and family out-of-pocket maximum even if only one person in a household makes claims.

The majority of prescription plans have three tiers: generic, brand (formulary) and brand (non-formulary). The copayments for these plans are $20, $50 and $80 respectively. WSU has a four-tier plan with generic $10, brand (formulary) $50, brand (non-formulary) $80, and Specialty $200. What is a specialty drug? While they sound exotic, like a luxury cruise, they are drugs used to treat complex medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatis-C, and diabetes. These are not drugs that any of us “choose” to use – they are drugs that many of us rely on to stay alive. But this does not tell us the entire story because Anthem and other claims processors have more than one formulary. Currently, WSU is on the “national” formulary, but the administration/board will be unilaterally changing your formulary to the “essential” formulary. Thus, it is likely that a number of prescriptions that cost you $50 this year will cost you $80 next year, assuming the administration doesn’t also raise the maximum co-pays on drugs. So, many drugs will be unavailable to you unless you can afford to pay even more for drugs starting in 2019.

For high deductible plans, HSA contributions are as follows: 66% of plans contribute a $1,000 or more to single plans, and 63% contribute more than $2,000 for family plans. WSU is contributing only $500 for single and $1,000 for family.

So, the facts are that health care costs at WSU are like healthcare costs at other universities and colleges in Ohio, but the plan that the administration has forced onto non-represented employees and wants to force on AAUP-WSU is the worst plan at any university in Ohio. What the administration/Board is doing is trying to divide and conquer so that they can force this plan on our union and break the union. The changes the administration wants to impose on us would amount to a 5% cut in pay. Giving up the right to bargain over health care is giving up the right to bargain over compensation. 

Afraid of Their Own Faculty—and Staff.

What the administration/Board are truly terrified of is that the rest of the faculty and the staff at Wright State will unionize. The staff are unionized at most of the universities in Ohio, even at schools such as Miami, Ohio University and Ohio State, which are the only three universities in Ohio where faculty are not unionized. The real solution to the fact that the administration and the Board have treated the staff at Wright State without respect is for the staff to unionize and work with AAUP-WSU so that all employees at Wright State are treated with respect and have a real say in how the University is run.

The AAUP-WSU is now a proud affiliate of the Dayton Miami Valley AFL-CIO and we are prepared to assist and staff who want to unionize at WSU. We also pledge to work cooperatively with our brothers and sisters who are already organized on campus, the Teamsters and the FOP, so that the administration/Board do not destroy the university that all of us have helped to build in order to serve the needs of our students and our community.

Rudy Fichtenbaum
Advisor to the AAUP-WSU Executive Committee

Professor Emeritus of Economics