I’m a union guy — a card-carrying member of the AAUP. But I’ve never been comfortable with it. Though I come from union roots in the Pennsylvania coal fields, I spent my first career as an advocate for management. So color me conflicted.
I’ve never been on strike, or even close. But it’s a contract year at Kent State, and everyone expects some hard-nosed negotiating, since times are tough and state funding lean. But just as the union was selecting its bargaining team, management offered an olive branch that took us all by surprise.
Last week, the administration asked the AAUP to extend the existing contract for one more year. The offer isn’t a bad one on the surface: a 3% across-the-board raise and no increase in healthcare costs. That in itself is worth considering, but then the bossman sweetened it by adding “domestic partner benefits,” something the union has supported for 20 years or more and something the administration has refused to discuss year after year after year.
Why does this meaningful gesture from management smell so funny to me? The answer is simple.
When two parties lose trust in one another, even reasonable proposals are met with suspicion.
Trust between KSU administration and faculty has been seriously eroding over the past two years. If you follow this blog, you’ll recall a post about the president’s high-priced European tour last summer, and another about the high-priced benefits for a top executive. Our local media have noticed management’s spending habits, too, and said so in a year-end editorial that embarrassed us all.
(Update 4/10/08: Daily Kent Stater columnist Beth Rankin, who so impressed us with her courage a few weeks ago, has her own take on on the issue in today’s DKS. Beth is one fearless journalist — and we need more like her to keep our institutions accountable!)
So here we are, another public relations lesson unfolding before our eyes. And the core issue — surprise, surprise — is trust.
This contract won’t mean a thing when they look back at the 100-year history of this institution — unless, of course, it’s the first contract to be settled after a strike. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
For now, I’d just like to know what the bossman really wants from us. Pardon my skepticism, but he’s earned it. And like the headline says: When trust dissolves, suspicion rules.