Faculty union asks members to vote to authorize a strike

Rachel Hale

Kent State’s faculty union asked its members to authorize a strike over lack of progress in contract negotiations.

Ballots were sent to tenure-track faculty members on Tuesday, and they can vote through Dec. 10.

If approved, the strike authorization would allow the American Association of University Professor’s leadership to call a strike. The AAUP represents full-time faculty members. The contract in question covers tenure-track faculty; non-tenure track members have a separate contract.

The union authorized a strike in previous negotiations, but never followed through.

“Strike authorization is the most powerful tool we have (short of an actual strike) to bring about a fair contract,” according to the union’s website.

Neither the union nor the university would comment on the vote or ongoing negotiations, but both posted detailed positions online.

The strike authorization vote comes after months of negotiations between the two sides. The union declared an impasse after an Oct. 24 meeting, which left it with little hope of a settlement. At that point, the group asked a federal mediator to step in and met with him for the first time last week.

Both parties will meet with the mediator again on Dec. 11 and 17, according to the university’s website.

The union told its members on its website the authorization was needed because, “When dealing with ‘hard liners’ who do not respond to reasoned arguments and shared interests, a union ultimately has no negotiating power unless it demonstrates a willingness to strike.”

The website said a “yes” vote “does NOT mean there will be a strike. It means that the members feel strongly enough about the issues to support a strike.”

On Kent State’s Division of Human Resources website, the university called the strike authorization vote “a negotiating tactic used to pressure the university.”

In an update after a Nov. 21 negotiation session, the union said administration proposals were unchanged from earlier offers.

Major issues in the negotiations are salary and health benefits.

The university proposed tiered raises, in which faculty who earn below $80,000 would receive 3 percent raises in the first two years of the new contract and a 1 percent increase in the third year. Faculty who earn between $80,000 and $100,000 would receive 2 percent raises in the first two years and a 1 percent increase in the third year. Those who make more than $100,000 would receive a 1 percent increase in the first two years and a 2 percent increase in the third year.

The union website stated the tiered approach “exacerbates salary compression and even causes salary inversion.” 

After the university first proposed the tiered raises, it said in a post it offers greater increases to early-career faculty members, which “supports our goals for recruiting and retaining the best and brightest tenure-track faculty.”

The union said the tier raises equate to a 1.94 percent across-the-board increase for the first year, 1.83 percent the second year and 1.43 the third. The university said such a comparison isn’t fair.

The university wants insurance to cover 85 percent of health care spending in network and 60 percent outside. Currently, faculty have a choice between plans that pay 90 percent in network and 70 percent outside or 80 percent inside and 60 percent outside.

Premiums for the 85/60 plan would be higher than current premiums for the 90/70 plan, the union website says.

If the university and the union don’t come to an agreement with help from the mediator, a neutral “fact-finder” will be brought in to hear from both sides.

They then would make a non-binding recommendation for a settlement.

If either party rejects the fact-finder’s report, negotiations can continue. If either side declares an impasse, however, the faculty union website says, “the University may ‘impose’ the contract without our agreement.”

The union’s only alternatives at that point would be to accept the imposed contract or strike, the AAUP-KSU website stated.

If AAUP-KSU leadership decides to call a strike, they must, by law, give the university a 10-day advance notice.

During a strike, AAUP-KSU faculty members wouldn’t get paid, would have to pay their own health care costs and premiums and would lose the university’s contribution to their retirement plans.

The union said if faculty members go on strike they should not hold classes or office hours, give exams, submit grades or attend committee meetings. Non-union members would have to choose whether they would cross the picket line and teach.

Despite that, the university insisted it would keep its focus on educating students.

“During a strike,” the university said, “our top priority would be to assure that quality instruction to our students is not interrupted.”

Rachel Hale is the administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected].