Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post generously contributed by one of our comrades in the Dayton/Miami Valley DSA about the faculty strike at Wright State University.
On January 22nd, negotiations between faculty members of Wright State University and the administration officially came to an end. After more than two years of failed attempts to win a favorable contract, professors represented by the American Association of University Professors union moved away from the bargaining table and onto the picket lines.
From day one, Dayton/Miami Valley DSA members were on the picket line to lend their solidarity to union members. Beginning at 6:30 AM, we met at strike headquarters to help set up material for the picket line. Despite temperatures dipping into the negatives, we knew that our efforts only fueled this ever-growing movement of educators taking a stand against oppressive working conditions. That first day some members were out on the picket for up to twelve hours. They were shoveling snow for folks in wheelchairs to safely access picket lines, holding down tents in furious winds, and picketing in support of AAUP. One local member, David Sparks, even brought camera equipment to the lines and filmed an interview with one of the union members. Throughout the entire process, leading up to and during the strike, the administration blasted the public with a vicious campaign of misinformation to attack the union and discredit the support it was getting from the community. But primarily, the administration acted in an aggressive fashion to drive a wedge in between the support from Wright State students to faculty members. Our goal in DSA was not only to lend our physical solidarity but to also dispel this campaign of misinformation. Our video was posted to Facebook where it ultimately received over 14 thousand views. DSA members showed up every day throughout the first week of the strike, showing up at 6:30 AM to help union members organize the material needed for the picket line.
The strike went on as the longest faculty strike in Ohio history, finally reaching a conclusion on February 11th. The demands brought forward by the union were simple: they wanted the right to bargain over healthcare, an end to ten-day furloughs, the ability to bargain over workloads, and more job security. It should also be noted that union members were not seeking any raises. If the first question that comes to mind is wondering how in the world WSU ever came to this point, you’re not alone. The administration created these conditions through a years-long campaign of reckless spending with little regard for the financial stability of the university. For example, in 2016, Wright State was slated to hold the first presidential debate between candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. After failing to secure funding and spending $2.5 million, the university backed out of this commitment. Professors also discussed their frustration with the administration’s desire to fund a basketball team which ultimately eats more of the budget than it gives back. In 2015, the Department of Justice opened an investigation into WSU’s H-1B’s visa process, where abuses were alleged. The abuse of the visa process ultimately came when WSU sponsored nineteen foreign workers who were employed in IT work and were paid lower than industry average. The complaint alleges that these sponsors were brought in to provide cheap labor. They were allowing immigrants to be paid far lower than your average IT worker. In November, an agreement was settled that WSU would pay $1 million over the course of two years in punishment for these actions while also being closely monitored by the Department of Justice for years to come. Despite this pattern of reckless spending and overall lack of concern with the university’s well being, the administration aimed to hold the faculty accountable through cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and high-cost healthcare plans.
The faculty, however, held the line. They stood strong for weeks in the face of countless attacks from the administration, including an attempt made by the administration to decide whether the union’s strike was “unauthorized.” The administration made an unfair labor practice against the union claiming that they had no right to bargain or strike over workload. The State Employment Relations Board (SERB) in Columbus were forced to hold a hearing about the complaint on February 2nd and follow up with an immediate determination. SERB ultimately decided in favor of the union, acknowledging that they had every right to be on strike and did not have to return to classrooms until a contract was established. The administration also went to great lengths to bring in scab labor, offering housing and teaching opportunities to adjuncts for the remainder of the semester. Despite these attacks, the union held out. With an enormous level of support from community members, students, and other unions and faculty, they won a favorable contract.
The strike at WSU is a direct indication of just how widespread the teachers movement is growing. As AAUP went onto the picket lines, teachers in LA won in their struggle for a fair contract. Before the strike had ended at WSU, it was announced that Denver teachers would also be hitting the picket lines, following a long list of public school systems around the country who have joined in this #Red4Ed movement over the past year. Many thought and predicted that organized labor struggles might soon be a thing of the past after the Janus ruling in the Supreme Court, but reality has proven far different. Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Ohio have all confirmed that a revitalized labor movement is forming, and its forming under leadership from teachers.
As socialists, we must be there in solidarity however we can whenever these struggles arise. Whether we join a snow removal crew, make tacos for those out on the picket lines, or interview the union to get their message out to broader audience, these are the struggles that we must aggressively intervene in without question. Our knowledge and support of organized labor will help shape the generations to come. Students will take note of what can be done under strong unionized leadership and push back against the widespread attacks on organized labor. They will piece the picture together to see that it is only through raw solidarity in action that we will begin to reshape our world to work for the laborer instead of for the shareholders, board members, and corporate leadership.