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A collective history: Origins of faculty unions across Ohio

<p>Faculty from across Ohio weigh in on how unionization has impacted their schools. From left to right: Candace Bowen, Kent State; David Jackson, Bowling Green; Deb Smith, Kent State; Neal Jesse, Bowling Green; Robert Rubin, Wright State.</p>

Faculty from across Ohio weigh in on how unionization has impacted their schools. From left to right: Candace Bowen, Kent State; David Jackson, Bowling Green; Deb Smith, Kent State; Neal Jesse, Bowling Green; Robert Rubin, Wright State.

If the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM) votes to unionize, it will be the first successful faculty union at Miami University and the tenth of 14 public universities in Ohio to have a faculty union.

Faculty unions in Ohio date back to the 1970s, beginning with the University of Cincinnati, the first university to vote to unionize faculty.

As FAM continues its mission toward unionization, Cathy Wagner, professor of English and president of FAM, said FAM has been talking with numerous universities in Ohio to prepare for its next steps.

“We’ve been really lucky at Miami with the amount of input and support and solidarity we’ve had from other AAUP chapters elsewhere,” Wagner said. “Folks from those chapters have been really generous in donating time to come and talk to us about what it’s like on their campuses."

Wright State University

Wright State University’s (WSU) tenure and tenure-track faculty members unionized in the late 1990s, and in 2012, non-tenure-track faculty members voted to form their own union that would eventually merge into one.

WSU’s AAUP contract highlights job security for non-tenured track faculty members, a retrenchment clause that permits employees from being terminated due to university finances and recent COVID-19 related protections. Membership dues are 0.75% of salary and pay for an administrative assistant for the AAUP chapter.

In 2018, the union played an important role after the university tried to cut faculty benefits due to finances. 

Robert Rubin, a senior lecturer in English at WSU and WSU’s AAUP president, said the university also tried to increase workload, give summer teaching to part-time faculty and raise the job security time requirement for non-tenure-track faculty from seven years to 12.

Cait Ganote, a sophomore at Wright State at that time, remembers the 2018 school year as chaotic, and she ended up taking the semester off due to the strike.

“I still remember one of my teachers almost in tears talking about how stressful everything was and how the teachers felt really bad for the students and they felt like there was pressure on all sides,” Ganote said.

The union went on strike for 20 days. In the end, faculty retained their workload agreement, and non-tenure-track faculty kept their appointment rights at seven years.

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“The fact that there was a union, the fact that the administration and the union could talk to each other, could negotiate something better together, it really ended up in the benefit of all parties involved,” Rubin said.

John Martin, a professor of management at WSU and the grievance officer of WSU’s AAUP, joined the union when he started his employment with the university in 2015. Martin joined not only for himself but also for his students.

“I believe that unions work,” Martin said. “I joined to advocate for good working conditions, for wages and benefits, and classroom issues that impact students, and students are the number one reason why we’re in our professions.”

WSU’s Office of Communications declined to comment on the faculty union.  

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is the most recent public university in Ohio to unionize. The faculty voted in favor of unionization in 2010 and successfully negotiated their first contract in 2013.

Since unionizing, the faculty has negotiated three contracts and extended the third.

David Jackson, professor of political science and president of BGSU’s AAUP chapter, said the union includes all full-time faculty under one collective bargaining unit. Three quarters of BGSU’s faculty is a part of the union, and the membership dues are 0.75% of their salary.

BGSU faculty tried to unionize in 1979 and again in 1994, but both attempts failed.

According to Jackson, before the union, BGSU's faculty had one of the lowest salaries among public universities in Ohio. He said the faculty members weren’t respected by the administration, which prompted the third attempt to unionize.

“The administration at the time, which was a very different group of people than we currently have, was committed to keeping the faculty from unionizing and playing fast and loose with the truth,” Jackson said. “I hope that doesn’t happen at Miami. I hope that in the discussions and debate, it’s a full and fair discussion.”

Neal Jesse, a professor of political science at BGSU, joined the union because of BGSU's low wages and because he wanted protection from the administration.

Jesse previously worked in administration at BGSU up to the Provost’s Office but returned to his faculty position as the union was forming.

“It was not pleasant,” Jesse said. “The faculty was upset, and the administration was dysfunctional. They were at war with each other – both administrators and faculty. The students had to be feeling this. There had to be an effect on the students, and now we don’t have that, and BGSU is a better place for it.”

The Office of Marketing and Brand Strategy at BGSU did not respond to requests for comment on the faculty union. 

Kent State University

Kent State University (KSU) was one of the first public universities in Ohio to unionize. The union came as a result of the May 4, 1970 massacre, when four students were killed at an anti-Vietnam war protest.

The first contract, negotiated in 1978, predated state law that gives public universities the right to collective bargaining.

KSU has two unions, one for tenure/tenure-track faculty and another for non-tenure-track faculty.

Deb Smith, professor of philosophy and the president of KSU’s AAUP chapter, said 80% of tenure and tenure-track faculty are a part of the union.

As one of the oldest public university faculty unions in Ohio, Smith shared her advice for FAM.

“We have one of the most robust faculty governance articles in the state, so I think our governance article is a really good one to take a look at,” Smith said.

Smith also said one of the most important articles in their contract addresses retrenchment which protects faculty members from being laid off in certain situations. For example, KSU’s retrenchment clause protects faculty members from being laid off due to financial reasons. 

Candace Bowen, a journalism professor at KSU, joined the union once she became a tenure-track faculty member.

After 26 years of teaching at KSU, she isn’t too involved with the union but still pays her dues for the benefits and representation.

“I think a lot of people on the faculty are like me,” Bowen said. “It’s like, ‘You guys are doing a good job. Just do it, and let me do my teaching and all the other thousands of things that I need to do, and I trust you.’”

Membership dues at Kent State are 0.8% of base salary, but faculty members do not have to pay dues to reap the benefits of collective bargaining.

The Communications and Marketing Department at KSU did not respond to requests for comment on the faculty union. 

What’s next for Miami?

As FAM continues to generate faculty awareness, its leaders are communicating with these universities and others across Ohio to get a sense of the contract language, dues percentages and other benefits for members.

“It’s the norm in Ohio to be a unionized public university,” Wagner said, “and we’re outside the norm right now.”

Miami University has hired Porter Wright law offices to handle the legality surrounding the unionization.

Chloe McKinney contributed additional reporting to this story.