Monday, November 19, 2001

UC strike issues similar to past

Benefits, pay, respect top list

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Contract issues dividing administration and faculty at the University of Cincinnati recall those that precipitated strikes in 1979 and 1993:

        • Money, health care and other indicators of respect are central to faculty.

        • Falling state support and building a budget that is balanced and stays balanced preoccupies administrators.

        • Power is an issue for both sides.

        Strike “talk” is more like a murmur, but the American Association of University Professors recently voted overwhelmingly to authorize a walkout.

        The union represents 1,988 full-time faculty; 720 are members. UC has more than 30,000 full-time and part-time students in 17 colleges on five campuses.

        No strike date has been set, but faculty have been teaching without a contract since Aug. 31. Both sides say they hope to avoid a strike and they are counting on a mediator to help restart stalled talks. Negotiations begin today with a federal mediator.

        AAUP wants a 20 percent raise over three years to help catch up with inflation. UC is offering 8 percent after cuts in state subsidies.

        Faculty wants to retain or expand health benefits. UC wants to change them and, in some cases, require faculty to pay more.

        AAUP wants to protect or expand faculty roles in running the university. UC generally wants to maintain the status quo or rely on the Faculty Senate, rather than the contract, to resolve such issues.

        Faculty says President Joseph A. Steger would rather build buildings than pay professors. UC says it needs better facilities to draw faculty and students.

        Much of this echoes faculty complaints and administration proposals before the 1979 and 1993 strikes.

Lengthy wrangling in '79

               An AAUP history brochure by Ina Maria Remus and David L. Sterling said 1979 contract talks began in January.

        Annual inflation in the previous two years approached 13 percent but raises were 5.5 and 7 percent.

        Inflation was expected to remain around 10 percent so faculty sought a 26.4 percent catch-up and keep-up raise over two years plus free dental insurance and free parking.

        On May 24, 1979, UC offered average annual increases of about 4 percent, but AAUP said the administration's other proposals “were geared toward weakening the faculty's position within the university community.”

        As evidence, the union cited UC's desire for discretionary power to cancel academic programs and fire affected faculty, to review the performance of tenured faculty periodically, and to continue to allow the president to overrule successful faculty grievances without further appeal.

        By October 1979, UC had dropped tenured faculty reviews but had given other employees dental coverage and significantly higher raises than it offered faculty.

        Faculty rejected mediation and authorized a strike. UC's final offer was 6 percent across the board each year and AAUP struck on Oct. 25.

        AAUP said one-third of all classes were taught. UC says the situation was too confused for any reliable count.

        By Oct. 30, UC had raised its offer to about 18 percent over two years and AAUP went back to work. UC paid strikers fully when they promised to make up for lost work.

Vote encouraged union

               The union went into 1992 negotiations heartened by the faculty's 1991 no-confidence vote in Dr. Steger.

        During a budget crunch, he tried to cancel faculty leaves and let 177 junior faculty go while spending millions to renovate Nippert Stadium.

        It was a recession and faculty accepted 0, 2 and 4 percent raises over three years, but AAUP balked at the plan to suspend faculty without pay even before a disciplinary hearing.

        In February 1993, AAUP rejected UC proposals and struck on March 29, the first day of spring quarter.

        Participation fell below 1979 levels. AAUP said 70 percent of the faculty honored the walkout. UC said 65 percent of the classes were held. Counts were more methodical than in 1979 and both sides claimed victory.

        UC stood firm on pay, but abandoned its disciplinary proposal, its plan to cancel academic leaves and the perceived threat to tenure. UC also shifted $2.8 million from retirement incentives to medical and dental benefits for retirees.

        Faculty returned to class on April 2 and the strike did not affect students' credits or graduations.

        Pay was a touchier issue. UC had withheld faculty pay during the walkout. Eventually, it paid 85 percent to faculty members who ignored the strike and to strikers who promised to make up lost time.

        Now, as in 1993, UC is facing a financial crunch, faculty are complaining about pay and construction costs and overruns, and grievance procedures again still are on the table.

        As in 1979, faculty say inflation is eroding their purchasing power and they hope to overcome the president's final say over grievances.

        As always, health benefits and parking bedevil negotiators.


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