Union workers protest the layoffs of 140 Ohio University employees amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Union workers protest the layoffs of 140 Ohio University employees amidst the coronavirus pandemic. [WOUB]

Union Workers Again Protest OU Layoffs During Coronavirus Pandemic

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Union workers at Ohio University and supporters took to the streets in Uptown Athens to again protest layoffs of 140 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Union workers protest the layoff of 110 custodial workers at Ohio University.
Union workers protest the layoff of 110 custodial workers at Ohio University. [WOUB Photo]
Almost 100 protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon wearing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1699 shirts, face masks and carrying signs.

“Chop from the top! Chop from the top,” the union workers chanted while walking from campus to the Athens County Courthouse while cars passing by honked for support.

“We have our administration lay off the people from the union that make the least amount of money and then the people making $200,000-plus are still in their positions,” Dan Maccabee, a groundskeeper at the university, said. “We feel if they want to save money they should chop from the top side. Don’t take away from the people who need to survive off the money that they make.”

AFSCME members work as custodial staff, building maintenance workers and groundskeepers, with the majority earning $30,000 – $50,000 annually. According to the university, these layoffs are expected to save the university $11,317,926.

John Johnson, Athens regional director for AFSCME Council 8 said the union is preparing to sit down with representatives of the university in hopes of reinstating the lost jobs.

“We’re getting ready to go back into negotiations so we want to make sure they understand that we need a fair contract for our essential workers.”

It is the second time the union has requested a labor management meeting regarding its contract, according to Johnson, and they are hoping to meet with the university’s Human Resources legal representatives Tuesday.

Union workers outside the Athens County Courthouse
“Chop from the top! Chop from the top!” Chanted the union workers outside the Athens County courthouse. [WOUB]
They want to know why the university’s board of trustees voted last month against ratifying their tentative contract. The contract was finalized in early March just before the coronavirus pandemic. The original contract expired on March 1, 2020.

“We are going to sit and listen why was it rejected. We haven’t had a meeting yet since that rejection,” Johnson said.

They then plan to discuss the layoffs, a fair contract and the The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.

The HEROES Act is the second coronavirus relief package from the federal government to help further mitigate economic impacts, including those on higher education. It was passed by the House on May 15th but it is yet to be approved by the Senate.

The union is pushing for some of that money, if it is approved, to be used by the university to save the jobs of those tasked with sanitizing and cleaning campus.

Mary Robinette considers herself one of the lucky ones because she did not lose her custodian job she has held at OU for 23 years. But she claims it will be difficult for the remaining custodians to keep the university sanitized after the layoffs.

“There’s no way with the amount of people they have right now they can do the job,” she said. “You know, there are seven of us doing the work of job that 20 of us is supposed to be doing.”

The union is also asking President Duane Nellis to sign a letter to Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman requesting he support the HEROES Act.

Before the pandemic, OU had slowed hiring, offered early retirement programs and voluntary separation agreements, cut the budgets of academic and non-academic units and warned of personnel reductions in an attempt to balance a $35 million projected shortfall. The economic impact of the coronavirus disruption made matters worse.

A release announcing the first round of  “significant personnel reduction” referenced the challenge.

“Ohio University recognizes and regrets the difficult impact this will have on our valued employees, their families, and our community at large,” that statement read.

Schools throughout the state are making similar decisions. The University of Dayton recently announced it will be furloughing or laying off more than 500 employees this summer due to the effects of the pandemic. And Kent State University has made it clear that the next budget year will include “layoffs and job abolishments,” along with pay cuts for staff.



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