Some 50 members of the faculty lined the halls of the Clark Memorial Library rotunda as they awaited the two negotiating teams and the federal mediator to arrive for the 2 p.m. negotiating session. Most of them wore shirts reading, “Don't make us strike again.”
“We are not optimistic at this point,” said Larry Lonney, a member of the faculty's crisis committee, before the meeting. “We're willing to make things as messy as we can if they're not willing to settle.”
Lonney said the faculty negotiating committee - consisting of Shawnee Education Association President Gene Burns, Jeff Bauer, Liz Chrisman, Steve Doster and Chris Cacir - is asking for an across-the-board increase of $3,000, plus a 5 percent increase per year for the next three years.
“Inflation was 4.1 percent last year, and the university's last offer to us was 3 percent per year over the next three years and an increase in what we pay as our part of our benefits package premium and our deductibles,” said Lonney.
Steve Donohue, chief negotiator for the university, deferred to Jeff Perez for the university's take on the negotiations. Perez, director of communications for SSU, said the university is committed to continuing negotiations, “and to a fair and comprehensive contract that will recognize the faculty for their fine work on behalf of our students.”
Perez said the university's stance on the negotiations was posted on the Web site, www.shawnee.edu. That site showed several graphs that compared salary and benefits at SSU with what the university considers other comparable colleges.
One graph concerning employee health contributions showed SSU faculty paying an annual contribution of $364 for single coverage and $572 for family coverage, the lowest on the chart. Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania faculty pay $408 for single coverage and $1,108 for family coverage, and Lake Superior State University faculty paid $470 and $1,269.
Another graph compares the average faculty salary and benefits for 2005-06. SSU faculty members are listed as making $72,700 on average, with seven other schools lower and two higher. The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Pa., was at $67,500 and The University of Maine at Augusta, Maine, listed salary and benefits totaling $69,000. Tops on the comparison list was Ferris State University in Michigan at $79,500.
In an online message to the SSU community, President Rita Rice Morris said, “The university has borne the brunt of health care costs, which have increased about 140 percent over the last six years. Under the terms of the old contract, the university pays on average about $12,500 for each faculty member and their family's health insurance, while the faculty member must contribute only $22 per paycheck for family health insurance, with the typical maximum annual out-of-pocket expense of only $600 per year. Single coverage currently costs only $14 per paycheck, with a $300 maximum for typical annual out-of-pocket expenses.”
Deborah Maynard, Ohio Education Association representative for southern Ohio, said that the two sides are farthest apart on economic issues, but said that the issues go deeper than salary and insurance.
“At the college level, you have things like promotions, summer teaching, overload, and they want to pay less,” said Maynard. “I can tell you that financially, Shawnee State University is looking very good, and the professors are just asking for the university to share some of that money.”
Jeff Bauer is the chief negotiator for the faculty.
“Last year, after they paid all of their bills, the university was able to put another $1.3 million into their reserves, which brings the total in their rainy day fund to over $17 million. We obviously don't want to take it all, but we would like to take the opportunity to catch up with other schools our size.”
Before Bauer went into the negotiating session at 2 p.m., he said the session was critical because the current contract ended Wednesday and that if the union strikes, they must give the university 10 working days before walking out, “and we would have to take a vote first, so it pays to get this settled sooner than later.”
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.