Wright State strike ends— Faculty union hails agreement
- Published: February 21, 2019
Wright State faculty members on strike for nearly three weeks returned to their classrooms on Monday after a tentative agreement was reached between the faculty union and the WSU board of trustees late Sunday night.
Under the agreement, the faculty retain their right to bargain over future changes to their healthcare plan, which had become a sticking point in negotiations in recent weeks. The contract also includes significant concessions from faculty, according to union leaders.
Overall, the agreement was hailed as a victory for faculty by union leadership and on social media. Villager Sirisha Naidu, an associate professor of economics at WSU and the union’s grievance officer, was among those who praised it.
“We gave them a lot of concessions, but we maintained the right to bargain,” she said.
That will have impacts even beyond the WSU campus, Naidu added.
“We have defended the right to bargain. That is pretty significant and I think if we had lost that, that would have had reverberations across the state and across the country,” she said.
“Faculty at other universities know that this can be done,” she added.
In a prepared statement, WSU President Cheryl Schrader said that the agreement with faculty serves the university and its students well and pointed to a collaborative relationship between the administration and faculty.
“Both parties made substantial concessions to help move the university forward together,” Schrader said. “I welcome back our returning faculty, and I know the rest of the university does too. We are united in our collective calling to serve our students.”
The new contract, which will technically be in effect retroactively from 2017 until 2023, includes no pay raises for the first four years and raises of 2.5 percent in the final two years of the agreement. In addition, it maintains previous terms for layoffs and workload, limits furloughs to one day per semester, reduces summer teaching pay and puts in place a retirement incentive program, according to a WSU press release.
The WSU board voted unanimously to approve the agreement on Monday. Union members will vote on the agreement soon, according to Naidu.
The strike, widely reported as the longest higher education strike in the state’s history, began after the university unilaterally imposed a contract on union faculty that imposed major changes to overall compensation and working conditions. As a result, 85 percent of union faculty voted to strike.
Although it has been “a rough time,” for striking faculty, the strike also brought the educators closer, Naidu said. Ultimately, faculty are relieved to be back in the classroom.
“Everyone is very excited to get back to campus to do research and their labs and, of course, to start grading,” she said.
Naidu, however, wasn’t to return until Wednesday, when her graduate seminar on economic problems is scheduled.
“I’m bummed about that,” she said of the further delay.
The tentative agreement came at the end of a week in which the union escalated its protests, which Naidu believes put pressure on the WSU board to return to negotiations.
“We were really stepping up our efforts,” Naidu said.
Over the week, striking faculty and their allies lined up from one entrance of WSU to the other, marched 400-strong to the administration building on the WSU campus and, on Friday, visited the Ohio statehouse and met with lawmakers.
Negotiations with a federal mediator commenced on Saturday at 7 p.m. and went until 1 a.m. the next morning, according to Naidu. They picked up again on Sunday, with a deal being reached after 11 p.m.
The negotiating team for the union, the American Association of University Professors-WSU, approved the tentative agreement on Sunday night, and the AAUP-WSU executive committee voted to end the strike so faculty could return to work on Monday.
Although the strike is over, there is still some bitterness about what happened, Naidu added. For one, faculty have spoken out about the confusing and sometimes intimidating messages to students.
The union faculty are also energized to continue to stand up for the academic mission of Wright State, even if they don’t have any direct mechanism for holding the board, and top administration, accountable, according to Naidu.
“We are committed to ensuring that students receive a good education,” Naidu said. “I know that all of the striking faculty are committed to it, and I hope that others who disagree with us also focus on what’s important so we can all work towards that goal.”
According to the university, since the start of the spring semester, 405 students have withdrawn while 494 new students have enrolled. In her statement, Schrader said she looks forward to a “return to normalcy as quickly as possible.”
“I welcome back our returning faculty, and I know the rest of the university does, too.”