“We’re the ones on the frontlines with the students”
An Interview with YSU-ACE Union President Connie Frisby

By Graig Graziosi

Youngstown State University’s administration and the labor unions representing the majority of non-administration employees just can’t seem to get along.

The vitriolic negotiations between the YSU administration and the YSU-Ohio Educator’s Association labor union — which lasted over 10 months — was only one of three major union contract negotiations facing the university.

The current negotiations between the administration and the YSU-Association of Classified Employees labor union — which began over a year ago — have proven to be just as rocky. The YSU Board of Trustees recently imposed the terms of a contract that was rejected by members of ACE on May 6.

For Connie Frisby, president of YSU-ACE, the contract negotiations are much more than business discussions.

“There has been a general lack of respect, period,” Frisby said. “[The Board of Trustees] imposed the terms of the contract … that we overwhelmingly rejected.”

According to the Board of Trustees’ resolution announcing the implementation of the contract, the administration was forced to move on the contract due to early July deadlines for any changes made to health care plans, paid time off accruals and cash payouts and reductions to starting salaries.

The language of the resolution states that the union negotiations have been in good faith. Frisby disagrees.

“ACE members’ number one priority was job security, and that basically was ignored in the current contract,” she said.

While job security is the primary concern for ACE members who worry about losing their jobs to subcontractors — a possibility under the new contract — their distaste for the new contract does not stop there.

ACE members who have worked at YSU for over 25 years generally accrue six weeks of vacation time. These employees will be losing a week off of their vacation time.

“They’re getting punished for being loyal employees. That just seems really backwards. The people who’ve already hit their 25 year mark should at least be grandfathered into their original benefits,” Frisby said.

Under the new contract, the number of hours YSU administration is willing to pay out for sick time is dropping by over half. This has resulted in many union members choosing to retire rather than continue working under the new contract.

“The retirement payouts are changing on sick leave. They used to pay out up to 575 total hours of sick time. They’ve now dropped it to 240. People are leaving,” Frisby said.

She believes encouraging veteran union members to pack up may be intentional.

“The attorney they’ve brought in comes from a union busting law firm. I feel very strongly what they’re trying to do is erode [YSU-ACE] completely,” she said.

At the core of Frisby’s criticisms of the negotiations is a feeling that the administration has a legitimate disdain for her union.

“At one point during negotiations we were told ‘the intelligent, degreed professional people on this campus were not going to pay’ for the likes of [YSU-ACE union members]. That was a response to us trying to get a better health care deal for our lower earning members,” she said.

Frisby hopes that the union and the administration can move past the animosity and get back to the negotiating table for continued contract revision.

“Ultimately we want to go back to the negotiating table. If that doesn’t happen, our crisis team will meet, and we’ll determine a plan of action from there. That decision will ultimately be up to the membership,” Frisby said. “[A failure to reach an agreement] will ultimately hurt the services our students get … if the students notice a decline in service, it’s not our fault.”