Worried about Furloughs? It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way

By now, everyone knows that OU recently adopted a policy regarding mandatory furloughs of employees in the event of “institutional budget deficits.” While this policy requires the administration to consult with the chairs of the Faculty Senate, the Administrative Senate, the Classified Senate, the Planning Unit Heads, and the Budget Planning Council, none of these entities has the power to modify much less to veto a decision to implement furloughs, which would simply occur at the President’s discretion. Furlough days are to be scheduled by each employee’s supervisor “in a way that allows the department or unit to continue to provide a basic level of service.” Faculty are told that they “may” take their furlough days during intersession and spring break, and will not be permitted to cancel classes due to furloughs.

In other words, faculty would continue to do just what they have always done, they’d just get paid less for it. Thus, “faculty furloughs” is just a euphemism for a pay cut (albeit a temporary one). Although the OU Faculty Senate raised objections to this policy, the most important of them were ignored by the administration.

What most people don’t know is that the statute enabling state-assisted universities in Ohio to implement mandatory furloughs for employees automatically included furloughs (i.e., mandatory unpaid leave) in the category of “wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.” These are items subject to collective bargaining under the state’s collective bargaining laws for public employees. In other words, a faculty union not only can negotiate with the administration regarding the policy for faculty furloughs, it is required by law to do so. For example, several of the unionized campuses in Ohio have contract clauses requiring that the university Board of Trustees declare a financial exigency before faculty can be furloughed or released, with detailed safeguards regarding “demonstrably bona fide” financial distress which are subject to union verifications. 

Such a declaration is in any case highly unlikely, as it is roughly equivalent to a private entity declaring bankruptcy. The university would likely lose access to federal student financial aid, and federal grants and contracts, and would be required to notify vendors it deals with that it cannot pay its bills and to notify the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board that it is unable to service its outstanding debt. It amounts to an admission that the President has been unable to manage the university’s fiscal affairs responsibly, and would almost certainly lead to the President’s resignation or dismissal.

Another possible furlough policy more favorable to faculty might require the university to reimburse faculty for lost pay due to furloughs once the university regained a certain measure of fiscal health as determined by specified fiscal benchmarks. The bottom line is that we don’t have to continue to passively accept policies that affect our income and working conditions as handed down from on high. We can claim our legal right to negotiate such policies with the administration. We need only band together to do it. Sign a union card so we can gain our rights under Ohio labor law.

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