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DBJ: Wright State faculty 'ready to strike if necessary'

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Excerpt from the Dayton Business Journal

An organization representing more than 500 Wright State employees is recommending its members reject a fact finding report issued in response to the university's ongoing labor dispute, setting the stage for a potential strike.

While the union that represents these faculty members has made it clear they are willing to cross the picket line, Wright State University President Cheryl Schrader disputed the notion that a strike is imminent.

"I think it's too early to say that there is going to be a strike," Schrader told me. "The university is already working to reach an agreement on a new faculty contract, and that could happen very easily without a strike."

The fact finder's report, released this week by Ohio's State Employment Relations Board, makes several recommendations meant to help resolve the conflict, which has been ongoing since January 2017.

The recommendations, which focus on unresolved issues among the two parties, are related to tenure, workload, health care, pay cuts and salaries, as well as other points of contention. Each issue is related in some way to the university's financial troubles, which has resulted in layoffs and a $91 million budget shortfall between 2013 and 2017.

The most significant recommendations made by the fact finder include:

Furloughs/"cost-savings days": The fact finder recommended the university implement two furlough/cost-savings days per semester, which means faculty members would receive a temporary leave from work that is unpaid. The American Association of University Professors — Wright State University Chapter says this would amount to a 2 percent annual pay cut for its members.

Raises: Citing a current Successor Collective Bargaining Agreement and "overwhelming evidence ... demonstrating the financial position of the university," the fact finder recommended there be no wage increases for faculty over the duration of the agreement, which is in the second year of a three-year term. He also recommended no increases or decreases in minimum salaries for the duration of the contract.

Health care: The fact finder stated that "drastic and immediate changes" in the way health care benefits are handled for the duration of the contract are warranted. The implementation date is recommended to begin on Jan. 1, 2019 and run for the duration of the contract. AAUP-WSU stated this would give faculty a health care plan that is the "worst in the state," and gives the university's board of trustees the right to impose additional changes within 60 days notice, "taking away our right to bargain over healthcare."

Workload: Citing legal precedent in various court decision, the fact finder recommended workload should be viewed as an "inherent management right," and that the two parties adhere to the current state of the law that recognizes workload. This means the workload of university employees would be deferred to management. The union says this gives the administration "total control" over the number of courses any faculty member teaches, and if they accept the fact finder's decision, they will concede to the university a new management right.

Retrenchment and tenure: Retrenchment, which in this case means the ability for the university to lay off employees, was recommended by the fact finder to be included as part of the contract. Language regarding entrenchment is found in the current collective bargaining agreement, and should continue to be included, the fact finder stated. In addition, the fact finder reduced the retrenchment review period from 60 to 30 days to provide a "shorter timeframe to effectuate the retrenchment processes." AAUP-WSU says this gives new power to the university president, and immediately makes tenure and continuing appoints "meaningless."

The fact finder did rule in the faculty's favor on some counts, including merit pay and non-tenure eligibility (NTE) appointments. In both cases, he recommended to "maintain the status quo."

Based on these and other recommendations, the unanimous decision of AAUP-WSU is to reject this report. The union says the report was "overwhelmingly negative," other than maintaining current standards for NTE appointments and on the determination of merit pay. In contrast, the union determined the fact finder ruled in favor of the administration/board of trustees on retrenchment, workload (including summer teaching rights), healthcare, furloughs and raises.

"The Factfinder’s recommendations would damage the academic mission of the university if accepted," stated Noeleen McIlvenna, contract administration officer for AAUP-WSU. "The articles on retrenchment and workload would lead directly to layoffs of faculty, while the rest would teach extra classes to make up the difference. Larger classes (aka a worse teacher-student ratio) hurts students. The full-time teaching faculty are not likely to accept such recommendations."

McIlvenna further stated that, while the union hopes the administration and trustees come to the negotiating table immediately, she is confident the faculty will vote to reject the report. Voting among AAUP-WSU members began Wednesday and will continue until 5 p.m. Nov. 7.

"I am confident that the faculty vote will reveal they are ready to strike if necessary to preserve quality education at Wright State," she said.

AAUP-WSU has more than 560 members, which is less than half the total number of full-time, part-time and adjunct faculty at Wright State. However, AAUP-WSU President Marty Kich said previously these union members teach close to 70 percent of the classes in the university's undergraduate colleges. In all, Wright State employs 2,838 people.

Schrader declined to comment on specific findings mentioned in the latest report, citing the fact that the Board of Trustees has not had an opportunity to fully consider or discuss the recommendations at this point. She noted the board has a 14-day window to "determine how to best move forward."

"I expect over a 14-day period the board will meet one or more times," she said. "I don't want to get out in front of the Board of Trustees, and frankly I don't want in any way to be influencing anything that is happening with regard to the union. Really, it is the Board of Trustees' determination as to how those recommendations might influence where we move."

She added university administration and the board has been at the table for "dozens" of bargaining sessions and other unofficial meetings." Schrader also said most of the contract items have been agreed upon during those sessions, and the recommendations found in the fact finding report were the final issues that need to be worked out.

"Both the Wright State Board of Trustees and AAUP-WSU continue to hold discussions, even this month in the lead up to the delivery of the fact finder's report," she said, adding they have not met since the report was issued earlier this week. "Certainly, Wright State remains committed to continuing to bargain in good faith."

The Wright State University Board of Trustees will meet in executive session tonight to discuss collective bargaining. It is unclear if the board will talk about these issues publicly after it adjourns the executive session, but a spokesperson said this is unlikely.