Facebook Live replay of AFSCME Local 1699 members and their supporters protesting along E. State St. in Athens, Ohio.

Workers Protest OU’s 140 Layoffs Amidst the Pandemic

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Union workers are continuing to protest, what they say is, unfair and disrespectful treatment by Ohio University.

On Saturday morning, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1699 and their supporters held signs along East State Street urging drivers to honk in support.

Organizers say at least 110 people participated in the protest.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) protest the layoffs of 140 fellow workers by Ohio University. (WOUB News)

Ohio University confirmed in a statement on May 1st, that 140 AFSCME employees “were notified that their positions will be eliminated effective May 31” due to “financial impact on our institution resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On May 11, the board of trustees voted against ratifying a tentative contract with AFCSME.  The university and union negotiators finalized the agreement in early March just before the pandemic emergency erupted. The original contract expired on March 1, 2020.

“We feel like it was reneged on. We did a fair negotiation, we count on management to make proposals and we just feel that the COVID-19 was an excuse to do further eliminations,” said John Johnson, Athens regional director for AFSCME Council 8.

Among the 140 laid off employees are custodians, culinary and maintenance staff. Johnson added that about 110 of the laid off employees are custodians, which generates concern regarding sanitary conditions on campus.

One of AFSCME’s union workers shows her support for workers laid off by Ohio University on May 1, 2020. (WOUB News)

Susan Castle, an employee at OU for 30 years said, “they keep cutting and cutting and we think they’re cutting the wrong people. We think they need to start at the top as well.”

Julie White, professor at Ohio University, showed her support for the 140 workers laid off May 1, 2020. (WOUB News)

Julie White, an OU professor attending the AFSCME protest said “the impact is not just on those workers and their families but the surrounding communities is profound and I think there are other ways of addressing the needs to renew our budgets. There are alternatives to cutting people off.”

John Johnson, says they are asking people to write letters to president Nellis and the trustees to rescind the layoffs and guarantee a firing freeze.  “Our final goal is trying to return everybody as possible back to work. These are essential employees.”

Susan Castle has been working at Ohio University for 30 years. She says that the university is cutting off the wrong people. (WOUB News)

Ohio University’s executive administrators have been facing harsh criticism from faculty, students and community members for laying off employees with lower earnings. According to OU records, most of the union members who were laid off made no more than $50,000 annually.

“I guess it’s just wrong. There could’ve been other ways to do it. Everybody could’ve took a decrease in their salary or something to keep everybody working,” explains Lisa Dickens.

Protestors line up along East State St. demanding a “firing freeze” for Ohio University employees. (WOUB News)

On Friday, 144 administrators and instructors were notified that their jobs either would not be renewed or will be eliminated. An interim furlough policy was also announced on Friday.

Organizers say they are planning more protests as they, once again, begin renegotiations with the university.


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