POSTED BY MARTIN KICH
Those of you who follow this blog have probably noticed that last spring I suddenly became a much less frequent contributor to this blog. The reason for my absence has been fairly straightforward. We began negotiations on a new contract in January 2017, and we still don’t have a contract.
Our previous administration ran through more than $120 million in reserves, wasting the money of a broad spectrum of non-instructional initiatives, none of which produced any of the additional revenue streams that were promised and several of which have attracted federal and state investigations, most of which are still ongoing.
Our current administration seems to be using the financial crisis as an excuse not only to compel us to accept cuts in salary and benefits but also to gut our contract of non-economic rights that are either fundamental to most faculty contracts or that we have managed to gain over the two decades in which we have had a bargaining unit. Although the administration is new, the Board that approved the deficit spending for half a decade is largely the same. Worse, although we are being told that the waste on non-instructional initiatives has been halted, we have not been provided with very clear and transparent evidence that this has occurred. In fact, there is some evidence that these reassurances are not worth much more than those that we received from our previous administration on its massive deficit spending.
Because we had some foresight about the direction in which things were heading, we essentially began a contract campaign several years ago. After intending to do so literally for several years, I finally recruited about 50 chapter liaisons, and, thanks to our chapter Communications Officer, Stephanie Triplett, and our chapter Secretary, Gretchen McNamara, we have much improved our chapter’s use of social media. Our chapter’s contract administration officer, Noeleen McIlvenna, has been seemingly tireless in taking on the large, additional responsibility for coordinating and escalating our contract campaign. As a result of all of these efforts, more than 86% of the full-time teaching faculty whom we represent are now AAUP members, and thanks to the administration/Board’s positions, we are adding members each week without even actively recruiting them.
In many ways, I think that what is going on at our university is truly unique because one would be hard-pressed to find an administration as reckless or incompetent as our previous administration and a Board as complicit or complacent as our Board was. But, if one looks beyond the extreme circumstances that have put our university in a fiscal hole, the continuing impasse over our contract actually has, I think, much broader resonance. It is about the continuing corporatization of our institutions, the erosion of full-time faculty ranks and rights, and the diminishment of faculty’s role in institutional decision-making.
Our contract campaign has become less about financial terms and has increasingly become an effort to preserve meaningful collective-bargaining rights and thereby preserve meaningful shared governance and the economic security of our faculty–not only tenure protections under retrenchment but also the employment security that we have gained for our non-tenure-eligible faculty who have more than six years of service to the university.
In late January, our university’s President scheduled an open forum on the university budget. We used this as another opportunity to demonstrate the unity of our faculty and our shared determination not only to secure a fair contract but to preserve our role within our university. More than 250 of the 500 AAUP members in our bargaining unit showed up at the forum, not only filling the available seats in a large auditorium but standing three and four deep along the walls.
Before the forum, our members gathered in the atrium of a building on the other end of the campus, and Rudy Fichtenbaum delivered the following speech before we walked en masse across the campus to the forum. Rudy is not only the President of the national AAUP, but also a Emeritus Professor of Economics at Wright State, and a paid adviser to our chapter.
Last week we had two negotiating sessions, and we have one more session that will start today at 4 p.m. Make no mistake, we are going to Fact-Finding no matter what the outcome of today’s session. The purpose of today’s session is to try and clear out some outstanding issues–-issues which really should not have to go to fact-finding.
In our last negotiating session, on Friday, we were able to reach a tentative agreement on a number of articles and importantly we did get them to back down on their proposals on 10 Governance, 14 Discipline, 15 TET Termination and Unpaid Suspension, and 15 NTE Termination of Appointment and Suspension without Pay. I should say you got them to back down! You got them to back down by your unanimous vote at November’s chapter meeting to add strike language to our Chapter Constitution and Bylaws, by your overwhelming support of a pledge to reject any CBA or fact-finder’s report that entails a loss in real compensation or in job security, by your presence at the Lake Campus for the December Board of Trustees meeting, and now by this rally. But at the same session we also got some new, very bad news. We’ll get to that in a minute.
When we started negotiations the Board and the President took the position that their key goal was avoiding fiscal watch. But it is now apparent to us that these negotiations are not really about the University’s finances. As was reported at a Board Finance Committee last Friday, if the administration sticks to its remediation plan they will avoid fiscal watch. The reality is that the Board and the President delayed negotiations so long that nothing we might agree to will impact whether the University goes on fiscal watch or not. Whether WSU goes on fiscal watch or not will be determined by what happens in the current fiscal year, and that will end on June 30.
The Board and the President have argued that even though the plan is in place to avoid fiscal watch, the faculty need to give more. Why? They say that they are uncertain about enrollment in the future and complain about declining tuition dollars because of College Credit Plus [Ohio’s expansion of dual-enrollment]. But our enrollment declines have been largely among international students, and those declines have been due to the incompetence of the administration, and apparently, they are not confident that they can solve the problems that they created. The enrollment of international students at other schools in Ohio has not declined as it has at WSU. Moreover, every state university is feeling the effects of College Credit Plus, but none are asking faculty to take a 10% cut in real compensation over the next 3 years.
So, what is the central issue in our negotiations? Repeatedly, in negotiations, the Board and the President, through their representatives at the negotiating table, have expressed the view that the financial crisis at the University gives them the upper hand and they intend to use it. So fundamentally these negotiations are about power and respect. The Board and the President believe they have the power, and, clearly, they have no respect for the faculty.
The Board and apparently the President think that faculty are just one more group of employees in an “enterprise.” Repeatedly during negotiations, they made that blazingly clear. So, they want to take an “enterprise” approach on all wages and benefits. Specifically–-returning now to last Friday’s negotiating session–- they offered 0-0-0 for salary although they want the unilateral right to give merit pay, which would be distributed solely at the discretion of the deans, just in case they find some unexpected money in a cookie jar.
But that is not the worst of it by a long shot. They want us to agree to so called “me too” language–-that means to take all benefits (health insurance, life insurance, disability, parking, tuition benefits, dental, vision, adoption benefits ….) that they give to other university employees. By the way this applies to retrenchment; so, the maximum notice for a tenured faculty member or continuing NTE with more than 10 years of service would go from 18 months to 24 weeks. After that, apparently the Board thinks you just go and look in the want ads in the Dayton Daily News and find your next job just as the other employees whom they have laid off have had to do. They don’t seem to realize that generally faculty get hired only once a year, at the beginning of the fall semester, and that for most faculty it takes a year to find a job and generally involves a national search.
Importantly, with this “me too” language, they want you to give up the right to bargain over all mandatory topics–i.e., they think it is fine for you to pay union dues as long as your union does not bargain for anything and just accepts what everyone else at the University gets. If you think that I am exaggerating, read the language they put on the table.
Also, the premium increases for health insurance they want from us will cost us about $600,000 every year. Right now, we pay about $1.8 million. $600,000 more would be a 33% increase! On top of higher premiums, they want to cut health benefits via increased co-pays, increased out-of-pocket maximums, and increased coinsurance. Needless to say, cuts such as these harm people who are already sick, defeating the purpose of insurance. And these cuts will fall more heavily on the lower-paid faculty. This is the plan they want us to accept! All told the cuts they want from us would save the administration $2.1 million every year–-would cost us $2.1 million every year, the equivalent of a 4% cut in pay to the Bargaining Unit as a whole–-and to repeat, the majority of the cuts will fall on people who are sick, and for low paid faculty it will be a double whammy.
But wait, it gets even worse. How could it get worse than taking 0-0-0 and 4% cut in pay due to cuts in health care? Well, on Friday night, at the end of our bargaining session, they put a new proposal on the table to allow them to “furlough” faculty. I use quotations because you will still have to teach your classes and have office hours. Taking days off from doing research will only hurt you. It could delay your promotion, result in a higher teaching load, or prevent you from getting tenure. Moreover, the recommendations you write for students and their emails will still be there when you return. The de facto result is that you will be doing your job but for less pay. They said that they are contemplating up to a 10-day furlough if it is “necessary.” That is 1/2 of a month’s pay and would amount to a 5% cut in your pay, above and beyond the de facto cuts they want to apply via health insurance.
And to be clear, let me remind you that the administration’s language for retrenchment is still on the table, still threatening the job security of NTE and TET BUFMs alike.
Back to the strike language that we added to our Chapter Constitution and Bylaws last fall. With Friday’s outrageous proposals, the administration signals clearly that they want to impose a big cut in pay on us, and weaken our job-security protections, and, in general, emasculate our union. So, taking steps toward a strike, and being willing to strike if need be, is now absolutely necessary.
And remember, when you start talking to your colleagues about a strike and they worry about losing pay, I would say there is good chance they will be losing pay if they are not willing to strike. Remember the administration’s proposal to furlough you for ten days–- honestly put, to take away ten days pay or 5% of your annual income! Other employees who are furloughed don’t have to come to work, but you do–-still have to do the huge pile of grading. If you have to take a chance on losing a few days’ pay, by going on strike, don’t you want to have something to show for it once it is over? Allowing the administration to furlough faculty—they don’t have the integrity to call it just a temporary pay cut—is like giving heroin to a drug addict. It simply enables the administration and the Board to keep the same misplaced priorities by not making cuts in areas such as intercollegiate athletics, WSRI and WSARC [a research institute and an applied research corporations, both of which have been money pits], and at other top administrative levels–-cuts they could and should have made many years ago!
Right now, the Board believes that the faculty will not stand up. They view the financial crisis as an opportunity to take back everything we have won over the last 20 years. Our negotiations are not just about money. They are about power and whether faculty will be treated as professionals, which is a necessary condition for Wright State to be a real University.
We need to show the Board that, along with our students, the faculty are the heart and soul of the University. We are responsible for virtually every dollar that comes into this institution. No student comes here because we have a nice fitness center, or because they think that our director of parking services is the best. They come here to get an education. No one gives research grants to the University because we have an Office of Sponsored Research. In fact, the opposite is the case: we have an Office of Sponsored Research because faculty bring grants to the University. Without the faculty, there is no reason for anyone else to have a job at this University.
The only way to demonstrate to the Board that you will not let them destroy our University is to vote to authorize a strike. Later today, I will be recommending to the Executive Committee that they begin the strike authorization process. That means you will be called on to vote to allow the Executive Committee to call a strike if our chapter members reject a fact-finder’s report or if the Board rejects the fact-finder’s report and chooses to impose a contract on us. Without this vote, going into fact-finding, you are going to lose on health care and probably on wages—so with 2% per year inflation every year you will be taking a 10% pay cut, and that does not count a furlough. But most important of all, you will lose what it means to be a university faculty member.
This is about respect. It is about who you are and what you do. It is also about our students, who are paying for and deserve a real university education. Remember faculty working conditions are student’s learning conditions, and with fewer faculty teaching more classes and larger classes, the quality of education that we provide will be diminished. It is also hard to think about what is good for your students when you are worried about whether you will be able to make you mortgage payment or whether you will have to declare bankruptcy if you get sick.
The best way to try and avoid a strike, without giving up what it means to be a faculty member, is to show the Board that the faculty are united and willing to strike if the Board insists on its draconian proposals. If the faculty are forced to strike it will not be about money but about power and respect. It is about whether we will continue to have a University or will simply be turned into an education factory.
Our chapter’s investment in the blue t-shirts has obviously paid off.
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