Ohio University faculty gather more than enough signatures in their union drive

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – An effort to unionize faculty at Ohio University resulted in more than enough signatures to file a petition with the state.

The United Academics of Ohio University (UAOU) held a rally on College Green to announce the news and then deliver a letter to President Lori Stewart Gonzalez requesting that the university remain neutral as the faculty pursue their union drive.

At least 30% of the faculty had to sign off on the petition to make it valid, according to state law. UAOU said its collections surpassed that threshold.

Ohio University faculty make $6,000 a year less on average than their unionized counterparts at other universities, according to John Cotton, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

“When we compare Ohio University salaries to the nine other public research universities in Ohio, Ohio University has the lowest average salary per faculty,” Cotton said at the rally.

Kyle Butler, an associate professor of instruction at Ohio University, addresses a pro-union rally as Matthew deTar, an assistant professor of communications, looks on.
Kyle Butler, an associate professor of instruction at Ohio University, addresses a pro-union rally as Matthew deTar, an assistant professor of communication, looks on. [Gabriel Scotto | WOUB]
Faculty at several other public universities in Ohio such as Kent State, Bowling Green and the University of Toledo are unionized.

David Ridpath, a professor of sports business, said the university’s salaries and benefits are “near the bottom” because faculty don’t have a seat at the table with university administrators.

“Unless you put that pressure on administration and have that voice at the table, there’s absolutely no way faculty will be treated the way they should be treated here,” Ridpath said.

While the Faculty Senate at Ohio University can recommend salary increases, its recommendations are non-binding and do not have to be acted upon by the university.

“What a union is going to give us is the power of negotiation,” explained Joe McLaughlin, associate professor of English. “A union will move us forward to levels of compensation that faculty enjoy on almost all other public campuses in our state, one that compensates the many for their contributions and not just those who work in the executive administration.”

Physics professor Arthur Smith said the university’s potential is undermined by decisions administrators have made in the past, citing the example of a promising young faculty member who left Ohio University because she couldn’t support her family on her income.

“I support unionization today because I believe that this institution can only reach its potential when academics become valued and prioritized,” Smith said. “Today, we stand on the precipice of change, a change that will redefine the status quo (at Ohio University) by empowering the collective voice of faculty and putting in check administration without accountability.”

The lack of transparency by administrators when drawing up contracts has also played a role in the drive for unionization, according to Sarah Webb, an associate professor of instruction, who’s spent two years talking with faculty across Ohio University.

“(Faculty members) want to know how the terms of their contracts are being determined and not only that; they want to be included in those conversations,” Webb said. “(They) told me they’re afraid to ask questions about their contracts, because they’re afraid that one-year contracts will not be renewed.”

Hannah Lauke represented the student body at the rally. They expressed concerns about the university’s reductions in faculty numbers and course offerings, along with the increase in class sizes, and argued unionization would give professors the ability to lobby against such changes on behalf of students.

“Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. We want to work with the new president to make a strong educational institution,” said Matthew deTar, an assistant professor of communication. “(The president’s) office can do that by not making statements against unionization.”

The UAOU will have have to file its petition with the State Employment Relations Board, which handles unionization of public employees in Ohio. If the board finds the petition is valid, it will schedule a unionization vote for Ohio University faculty members at a later date.