AAUP holds weeklong strike

October 3, 2011

CINCINNATI--After a weeklong strike to protest their impossible workload, 200 instructors at Cincinnati State returned to work September 30.

Next year, Cincinnati State will switch to a semester system, and the administration wants to require teachers to work upward of 40 contact hours--a 25 percent increase from their current workload without any increase in pay. Other community colleges in the state require only around 30 contact hours for each semester.

Contact hours are the time that instructors are in the classroom with students and do not include work such as grading assignments, preparing course materials, holding office hours or attending meetings. As a result, the faculty, members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), expects that it will have to work about 54 hours each week after the switch, undermining their ability to be effective educators.

Over the last year, the administration and the AAUP engaged in negotiations, but made little progress. And according to union officials, there's a reason the administration hasn't been interested in progress: Ohio Senate Bill 5.

SB 5, like the Wisconsin legislation that sparked last winter's labor revolt there, would strip public-sector workers of their right to collective bargaining. A statewide referendum on SB 5, which has yet to go into effect, will be on the November ballot after a coalition of labor organizations collected enough signatures in their effort to repeal the bill.

But if the bill goes into effect, the administration would relish the opportunity to use it to impose whatever terms they are unable to bully the union into accepting at the bargaining table.

"It's about the students," said one of the professors on the picket line, and another worried that if the administration gets it way, it would severely crimp the ability of teachers to give their students the personal attention that makes such a difference in the education process. After effectively shutting the college down for a week, AAUP members say they will return to work because they don't want the students to fall behind.

AS THE picketing wound down on September 29, a group of about a dozen students joined their professors on the line. And on September 28, more than 200 students walked out of their classes in solidarity with their professors. A group of students then walked up to the office of O'dell Owens, the newly inaugurated president of the university, to demand answers.

"We have failed you," he said to them, clearly showing that it was the administration's unwillingness to give the professors a fair deal that led to the strike. One faculty member on the line reported that her American Sign Language class was being taught by a Spanish instructor, and there were also reports that an algebra class was taught by a chemistry teacher. Most classes were only running for a few minutes: students would show up, attendance would be taken, and then they would be sent on their way.

The professors see themselves as the guinea pigs of the state's new policy direction. The reactionary measures being pushed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Cincinnati State Board of Trustees (a few of whom are outspoken Kasich supporters) affect all of the workers in the state, unionized or not.

One professor predicted that the outcome of this strike as well as the SB 5 referendum could produce a "domino effect." If the instructors are forced to accept harsh new work conditions, they could signal a slew of changes that threaten the entire public university system in the state.

Another new state program currently under development, the enterprise university plan, would partially privatize public institutions in the state. Schools would get less money from the state and have to make it up from contributions from business interests.

The fear is that these schools would indirectly become beholden to the will of these companies, effectively becoming charter universities. Not only does this plan threaten educational programs that are socially minded, marginalized or unprofitable, but it also threatens the affordability of an already expensive public education.

The AAUP and all public-sector unions in Ohio need solidarity, and it's important for all Ohio voters to turn out in November to vote to repeal SB 5.

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