YSU OEA to Hold Strike Authorization Vote

The Youngstown State University chapter of the Ohio Education Association union will meet Wednesday to hold a strike authorization vote.

This vote will not result in a strike, however.

Instead, a strike authorization — if approved — will grant the union executive committee the authority to call a strike.

YSU faculty members are now in their second month without a solidified contract — a situation Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, chief negotiator for YSU OEA and a professor in the philosophy and religious studies department, called “unprecedented.”

Palmer-Fernandez indicated the time is now for a strike authorization vote.

“The executive committee [of OEA] determined that the faculty ought to have a say in what has been a protracted negotiation,” Palmer-Fernandez said. “It’s time for our faculty to have a say.”

Though YSU and YSU OEA reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract in August, one key element of this contract has yet to be agreed upon — Article V, the portion of the contract dealing with faculty healthcare benefits.

The university and YSU OEA specifically disagree on the best method to calculate employee premiums — the percentage of salary that a faculty contributes to their healthcare benefits.

In an email to a council of executive and administrative staff, Neal McNally, interim vice president for finance and administration, explained the university’s suggested premium calculation.

“The university … has proposed revising the manner in which employee premiums are calculated, i.e., a uniform 15 percent of premium instead of the current variable range of 11 percent to 21 percent,” McNally said via email. “This proposal would reduce health care contributions for most faculty members.”

Palmer-Fernandez, though, argued that this proposal — one that asks employees to contribute a uniform percent of their pay to healthcare benefits — would negatively impact those employees positioned on the lower end of the salary scale.

“The administration has proposed an amount of premium that would be devastating for any faculty member making less than $60,000 a year,” he said.

Kevin Reynolds, chief human resources officer and a negotiator for the administration, declined to comment on issues regarding healthcare premiums.

Internal polls conducted by YSU-OEA suggest that — if struggles regarding contract negotiations persist — faculty members are poised to strike.

“72 percent are prepared to strike,” Palmer-Fernandez said.

Rumors have suggested that no-confidence votes for President Jim Tressel and the Board of Trustees could also be held during Wednesday’s meeting, but Palmer-Fernandez did not confirm these rumors.

“I have nothing to do with a no-confidence vote,” he said. “If there is one being planned, I am not one of the planners.”