Lobbyists for OU Pushed to Curtail Faculty Negotiating Rights

The day before S.B. 5 passed, a massive omnibus amendment was added that restored limited collective bargaining rights (on pay but not on benefits) but also drastically restricted university faculty’s ability to be included in a bargaining unit. Those restrictions – known as “Yeshiva” language, after a 1980 Supreme Court case that essentially gutted faculty organizing rights at private colleges – define most faculty as managerial employees, unable to be represented by a union. (On the likely impact of this language, see this analysis in Inside Higher Ed.)

Wondering where this eleventh-hour idea came from? Now we know, thanks to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Leaders of faculty unions in Ohio are bristling at the revelation that an association of the state’s public universities was behind a controversial proposal that would strip most public-college faculty members of collective-bargaining rights by reclassifying them as management-level employees.

Bruce E. Johnson, president of the association, the Inter-University Council of Ohio, confirmed in an interview on Tuesday that he had suggested the measure to members of the state Senate. It was approved by the Senate last week, as part of a broader overhaul of Ohio’s collective-bargaining laws now pending in the state House of Representatives.

“We are anticipating significant budget cuts, and so we view this as a rational step in terms of moderating our expenses on campus,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is a leverage issue. It enables us to have more influence on scheduling issues and faculty-pay issues.”

In other words, lobbyists representing our university – or at least, representing our leadership – actively engaged in union-busting activities. The Chronicle article continues:

Mr. Johnson, who formerly served as a Republican lieutenant governor and state senator in Ohio, said the university presidents who led his association did not specifically direct him to propose the reclassification measure. But, he said, they had expressed a desire “to have more flexibility as it relates to the management of state institutions” and, accordingly, had authorized him to advocate for an earlier version of the bill, which contained a flat-out prohibition against collective bargaining by public employees. He said he interpreted such actions as amounting to authorization to propose the reclassification of most full-time members of public-college faculties.

“Our interest is to negotiate with labor and not to negotiate with management,” Mr. Johnson said. As things currently stand, he said, faculty members at most public colleges in the state have both unions and roles in managerial decisions, so that any time college officials are negotiating with faculty unions, “there is management, frankly, on the other side of the table from you.”

Do you feel like management? Me neither. And yet, if you even engage in activities related to curriculum planning, you might well be classified as a manager.

Johnson’s statement is disingenuous because if S.B. 5 passes in its current form, university administrators won’t be negotiating with faculty. The bill’s Yeshiva language seems intended to ensure that any surviving faculty unions will be weak or nonexistent. Besides, if administrators have any interest in negotiating with faculty (instead of ruling by fiat), why did the association support the original version of S.B. 5 that would have banned collective bargaining outright for state employees?

Also, “flexibility” and “leverage” sound like shorthand for bidding goodbye to shared governance.

The Inter-University Council of Ohio’s lobbying efforts raise a host of troubling questions:

  • What position does President McDavis take on the lobbyists’ activities? Where does our Board of Trustees stand?
  • How can such lobbying activities be reconciled with repeated email appeals to OU faculty for donations to support the university’s lobbying presence in Columbus?
  • How was this lobbying funded? Did any of the monies come from funds to which faculty unwittingly contributed?
  • Were taxpayer dollars used in any form to support this lobbying?

We deserve answers to these questions. OU+AAUP urges our president, provost, and trustees to provide them.

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