By Liam Bouquet and Graig Graziosi
After nearly a year of negotiations, fact finding, mud slinging and strike threats, Youngstown State University’s administration and the faculty, represented by the YSU-Ohio Educators Association labor union, have reached a contract deal.
Tuesday, the YSU Board of Trustees ratified a three-year contract for faculty members represented by YSU-OEA. The contract passed by a 17-vote margin during a YSU-OEA vote on Feb. 17. According to the contract, there will be no salary increases in the first contract year, 2014-2015, a 1 percent increase in the second year and a third year 2 percent increase, as well as an increase to bonuses in the second and third contract years.
While the ratification does bring a close to the longest contract negotiation in YSU history, the tensions between the faculty and administration remain.
Despite YSU-OEA voting in favor of the contract, a union press release suggested the salary increases were not truly increases, stating: “ … it should be pointed out that these increases were TOTALLY subsidized by givebacks from the faculty.”
The Board of Trustees ratified the contract in a 7-2 vote. Dave Deibel and Harry Meshel opposed the vote, with Meshel going on to criticize union leadership — specifically Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, the YSU-OEA chief negotiator.
“If you’re not going to behave honestly and with respect for your opponent, then you shouldn’t be in a negotiating team, and you shouldn’t be running a program that has to do with ethics either. That to me is abominable,” Meshel said.
Though The Jambar could not obtain a response from Palmer-Fernandez, a Vindicator report included Palmer-Fernandez dismissing the remarks as unworthy of further comment.
Meshel opted to vote no because he “wanted nothing to do” with the contract, taking issue with the number of faculty who actually participated in the vote and the narrow margin by which it passed.
Of the nearly 400 members of YSU-OEA, 207 voted on the contract.
As suggested by the YSU-OEA’s press release, many of the faculty are unhappy with the new contract despite its passing. David Porter, professor of political science, said he believes the contract hurts both professors and the university.
“It’s a bad contract … specifically it’s going to cost me about 10 percent of my income and about $120,000 in retirement, not counting the fact that they’re doing bonuses rather than putting it in base pay so that means it’ll decrease my monthly retirement check after I retire. It’s a bad contract,” Porter said. “We will have a hard time hiring faculty at the wages that we have to offer. It’ll be necessary for many departments at YSU to lower their standards to find faculty willing to take the salaries offered.”
Porter accused the university of having a problem prioritizing its spending in such a way as to reflect sincere concern over the salary concerns of the faculty.
“We gave back approximately 6 percent of our income in order for YSU to straighten out its own finances. Only three years later we find YSU in worse financial shape than before, but it has spent several million dollars improving athletic facilities. … They tell me they’re broke and then spend money on a private dining room so student athletes can have a better diet,” Porter said.
Ray Beiersdorfer, professor of geology and environmental sciences, said he believes apathy in the YSU-OEA ranks is the primary reason the contract passed to the Board of Trustees.
“If 17 people would have voted differently, it would have been rejected. My disappointment is in about 200 professors that didn’t even bother to vote. There’s such apathy … it happened three years ago as well. I’m more disappointed in the fact that over half the faculty didn’t vote. There’s apathy at the polls … voting on your contract is personally effecting you. If 17 people would have voted differently things would have been different. … Nobody votes anymore, people are just disengaged from the whole process,” Beiersdorfer said.
While the passing of the contract was a relief for many in the administration, President Jim Tressel spoke to the several union negotiations on the horizon for the university.
“Well, there are still union matters left to be resolved. Negotiations are still ongoing with ACE and come April we’ll begin union negotiations with the police and administrators’ unions,” Tressel said.
YSU interim provost Martin Abraham was pleased that the faculty union negotiations had ended.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion and I’m looking forward to working with the faculty as we continue to move forward for the good of the university,” Abraham said.