Uncertainty, Frustration Remain For Union Workers In Absence Of Contract With University

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Local union leaders say they are still working with Ohio University to agree on a new contract and address wrongful termination grievances, though the process is taking longer than they had hoped.  

John Johnson, Athens regional director for AFSCME Region 8, said the union and the university had a labor management meeting on Tuesday to discuss upcoming contract negotiations in July. Union members had approved a new agreement in the spring that the Ohio University Board of Trustees  voted down

“The union was willing to do furloughs or anything to help prevent a layoff,” he said. 

“Chop from the top! Chop from the top! Chanted the union workers outside the Athens courthouse. June 3, 2020

“I want to be hopeful, I wish our agreement was ratified by the trustees. I’m prepared to go back and listen to the issues of why they thought this needed to be rejected and we’ll work with the committee and see if we can come up with some good solutions for our members.”

In May, 140 union members were told that their jobs were being eliminated.

Johnson said some of the laid off employees have filed grievances with the university, and meetings have not yet been scheduled to address them.

“We’re a little aggravated that we’ve filed grievances over the layoff procedure and the safety issues, and they’ve committed to us again that they’re going to get us scheduled…I haven’t seen anything pop up on my calendar,” he said. 

Classified employees will vote on whether or not to form a union in the coming weeks. 

John Ackison, president of AFSCME Local 1699, said union members are worried about other cuts that may come down the line. 

ACFSME union employees protest alongside East State St. against 140 jobs being eliminated. May 16, 2020

“It’s a real nervy situation when you watch your friends and other people, classified, professors, they’re getting rid of teaching faculty but they’re not touching the administration.”

Johnson and Ackison expressed their concern about how a reduced amount of facilities workers will be able to prepare the university to reopen for fall semester. 

“The layoff notices that were given said it was lack of funds and abolishment of positions,” Johnson said. “So when I see abolishment of positions, that means that job’s no longer there. …Everybody knows that’s the most important thing, the disinfection and the cleaning of your buildings and facilities is number one to opening back up.”

Union workers protest the layoff of 140 jobs at Ohio University.
Union workers protest the elimination of 140 jobs at Ohio University. June 3, 2020

Johnson said union workers are already working long hours to keep athletic venues clean for the athletes who are working out, and prepare for student-athletes to return to campus in July. 

“People (are) working overtime, trying to maintain the facilities and trying to do things, it doesn’t make sense to us right now,” he said.

“Not only that, it’s a safety issue,” Ackison said. “We’re running a skeleton crew.”

A rally is planned Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Athens Community Center to show support for classified employees, faculty, and facilities workers. Johnson said he hopes people continue to wear masks.

“People aren’t going away,” Johnson said. “There’s big concerns for the community.” 

 This will be the fourth major rally since the university terminated 140 custodial jobs on May 1; since then, a number of faculty, classified, and administrative positions have also been cut. The university says it will re-hire for some of these positions as part of a divisional reorganization. 

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