Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ohio's Faculty Unions: Front and Center

November 2, 2011
Ohio's Faculty Unions: Front and Center

To the Editor:

"Faculty Unions in Ohio and Wisconsin Hunker Down" claims that the faculty unions in Ohio and in Wisconsin have been marginalized in this political process (The Chronicle, October 9). We can speak only to what has been occurring in Ohio. Contrary to the article's assertions, the American Association of University Professors chapters in Ohio, like the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers chapters, have contributed a great deal to the efforts of We Are Ohio, both in terms of our collective financial contributions and in terms of the contributions made by many individual members—as well as in terms of the number of signatures gathered on referendum petitions, the number of new voters registered, and the linkages made with other unions through our participation in canvassing, phone banks, and fund raisers.

In fact, the AAUP chapters in Ohio have sustained active contributions from the outset of the campaign in the spring 2011 semester right on up to the present time. Faced with the complete elimination of our collective-bargaining rights, we have become a more significant, not a less significant, factor at the state level. Your article ignores that the fact that faculty-union leaders such as Rudy Fichtenbaum, of Wright State University's AAUP chapter, have been front and center in providing Senate and House testimony against Senate Bill 5; that faculty leaders have spoken at many major rallies across the state; and that faculty opinions on this issue have been expressed on the editorial pages of every major—and many local—newspapers in the state.

Ohio's higher-education faculty are not simply guarding their own interests, either. We are proud of the coalition we have developed with every union represented in We Are Ohio, and expect the fruits of our friendships to continue on into the future. At a recent fund raiser, a firefighter—not entirely ironically—thanked Gov. John R. Kasich for provoking such a profound sense of shared purpose. The firefighter was speaking for a great many pro-labor people in the state, including the majority of its university faculty. Ohio is indeed a "swing state." It is not Oklahoma or Utah. Right now a lot of pro-labor people feel very energized, and a lot of the people who have supported the radical effort to gut collective-bargaining rights are feeling much less certain about the ramifications of that effort than they may have felt six months ago.

But since dollars and cents usually speak most loudly to both allies and opponents, it needs to be noted that AAUP's Ohio chapters have contributed close to $750,000 to We Are Ohio, a considerable amount in any statewide political context, but especially given that we have only about 4,500 members statewide

Your article looks only at short-term ramifications of the anti-union legislation in Ohio, between its passage and the referendum on its repeal, and ignores the galvanizing effect that the referendum has had on all unions, both public-employee and private-sector. It does not ask what will happen if Issue 2 / Senate Bill 5 is repealed in November, or how that will change the perception of organized labor's momentum. This article is typical of "mainstream media" in that it responds to what is going on at the moment, ignoring that conditions are very fluid (perhaps volatile) and suggesting that the implications are long-term. Ohio's voters are aware of the political swindle currently under way—the anti-union legislation being only one of many patently one-sided schemes designed to favor the far right's corporate sponsors.

To shift focus somewhat back to the specific interest of our faculty unions, one must ask why an article in The Chronicle passes over, without comment, the fact that Issue 2 / Senate Bill 5 imposes NLRB v. Yeshiva University language on Ohio's public-university faculty when the faculties at nine of the 12 public universities in the state all voted democratically to unionize precisely because of shared-governance issues. We now know that representatives of the Bowling Green administration asked that the language be inserted into the original Senate Bill 5, in response to that faculty's recent election to unionize by that university's faculty.

Even worse, the article relies on and reinforces the well-worn stereotype of all unions as collections of thugs who hold the public over a barrel in order to fill their own pockets (the mixed metaphor is intentional as it reflects the incoherence of the stereotyping). Anticipating the objection that The Chronicle is simply trying to present "all sides" of the issues, we would be very happy to see an in-depth Chronicle exposé on how the expenditures on salaries and benefits at Ohio's public universities have shifted dramatically away from faculty—in particular tenure-line faculty—and toward administrators and administrative support staff. At our universities, the personnel costs have remained flat, at about 80 percent of an institution's expenses, while the percentage allocated to tenure-line faculty has steadily declined, and their salaries and benefits constitute only about 15 percent of the total institutional expenses. Nonetheless, every time there is a budget issue, you'd think that increases in tenure-line faculty compensation were the cause of it, and that reductions in our compensation offered the only solution to it.

We welcome spot-on reporting and are ready to take our share of criticisms. All we ask is that reporters get their facts straight before going to press.

Martin Kich
President, AAUP
Wright State University
Board Member
Ohio Conference of AAUP
Dayton, Ohio

Dave Witt
University of Akron
Past President
Ohio Conference of AAUP
Akron, Ohio