Testimony before the Insurance, Commerce, and Labor committee, 17 February 2011
My name is Sherry Linkon, and I’m John Russo. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk with you about why we believe that collective bargaining is good not only for faculty but also for institutions of higher education, our students, and our communities.
First, let me tell you briefly about us. I am a professor of English and American Studies at Youngstown State University. In 2003, I was named the Ohio Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and at YSU, I have been recognized with 2 distinguished professor awards in research and 1 each in teaching and service. I have been teaching at YSU for 21 years. John Russo is a professor in the Management Department. He has taught at YSU and served in various campus and union leadership capacities for 30 years. He is one of just two YSU faculty members to have been awarded Distinguished Professorships in all four categories: research, teaching, university service, and community service. We are also the co-directors of the Center for Working-Class Studies and members of YSU Chapter of the Ohio Education Association.
We have been approached several times by other institutions, asking us to apply for other positions. We have chosen to stay at YSU in part because we want to work in a union environment. The working conditions established by the YSU-OEA contract have helped us be productive and successful, as they have for many of our colleagues. We believe that the stability, clear expectations, and fairness provided by collective bargaining help faculty do a better job of developing new knowledge, teaching our students, and working with the community.
We support collective bargaining in higher education for three reasons: transparency, effectiveness, and justice.
Transparency means that faculty and administrators have a clear, shared understanding of central institutional practices. On non-union campuses, faculty and administrators must negotiate workload and salary individually, making it difficult for either side to plan and creating an atmosphere of anxiety. On unionized campuses, faculty members have a standard workload and opportunities for varying assignments are clearly laid out. Processes for awarding research leaves, tenure, and promotion are similarly transparent. All of this creates a productive, congenial work environment. Despite having a four course per semester teaching load, YSU’s track record demonstrates that the contract helps people be productive. Let me cite just one piece of evidence as an example: the University has dramatically increased the amount of external funding for research as well as the quantity of scholarly work produced by its faculty over the past 30 years. In the last 10 years, external grants at YSU have increased by a stunning 478 percent. Our own experience offers a good illustration of that pattern. In the last decade, we have published 2 books, with a 3rd on the way, plus more than a dozen articles, and we have brought in over $600,000 worth of grants. We were able to pursue this work because we had a clear framework for requesting institutional support, and we knew from the outset how our efforts would be evaluated.
Collective bargaining also allows universities to operate more effectively by providing institutional stability and effective planning that help us respond effectively to changing economic conditions. For example, the YSU-OEA is the oldest faculty union in the state and contracts have been bargained with great sensitivity to the local and state environment. According to the YSU administration and Board of Trustees, our University is the most efficient in the State with among the lowest student tuition.
In her testimony on the bill, Senator Jones suggested that ending collective bargaining would provide institutions with greater “flexibility.” But most people understand that the term flexibility, like the bill itself, hides as much as it reveals. In many situations, flexibility means the ability to rely more heavily on part-time and contingent workers resulting in a lower commitment to the institution and to its students. The term can also provide cover for arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory behavior by administrators. Without union due process rights and administrative accountability, academic freedom can be undermined by prejudice, favoritism, and increased political influences from outside the academic community.
In higher education, we need long-term faculty who can take on the hard work of developing and implementing new curricula, assessing student learning and completing regular accreditation reports, advising students, and helping our communities develop economically and address challenges. All of this relies on our knowledge of and commitment to the institution. Full-time faculty who work under clear contracts are in the best position to engage in these activities.
Finally, this is about simple justice and fairness. Here we are also concerned about non-faculty staff who manage the physical plant, keep our campuses safe, provide library services, and help students with financial aid, as well as workers in other state agencies and in our K-12 schools. We also share this concern for other Ohio public sector workers. This bill targets these workers, many of them earning relatively low wages, blaming them for an economic crisis that they did not create. If this bill passes, it will reduce the household earnings of thousands of families across the state. That’s not fair. It’s also not good for the state of Ohio, since cuts in their earnings translate into decreases in household spending, while denying them rights in the workplace sends a clear message that they are not valued or respected. The people who fight fires, provide for public safety and administrative services, handle sanitation, teach and take care our children and the infirmed, and provide all of the services upon which we rely deserve our respect. And they deserve to have the right to stand up for better working conditions and to be paid a decent wage — remember that public employees in Ohio generally earn 5.9 percent less than their private sector counterparts. They deserve to be appreciated, not demonized.
According to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and International Labor Organization Conventions, freedom of association, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, is a human right. We work hard for the State of Ohio, serving its citizens and contributing to its future. We deserve your respect, and we deserve the right to bargain.
The text of the testimony was first published on the Web site of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. Video by Marc Kovac, Capital Blog. For more information, visit <oh.aflcio.org/index.cfm?action=calendar>, <www.afscmecouncil8.org> and <www.facebook.com/pages/Stand-Up-For-Ohio/167952849919161>. See, also, “Ohio Labor: No on SB5!”; Dan La Botz, “A New American Workers Movement Has Begun” (MRZine, 18 February 2011); Dan La Botz, “Thousands Rally in Columbus to Stop Anti-Union Bill” (Labor Notes, 18 February 2011).