Union classified

This group of OU classified staffers presented a letter to OU President Duane Nellis' chief of staff on Dec. 18, seeking the OU administration's voluntary recognition of a union representing them and other classified staff at the university. They're pictured here outside of OU's Cutler Hall. Photo provided by Jacob Jakuszeit (seen at left).

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everal representatives of Ohio University’s 500-plus classified worker staff presented a letter to OU President Duane Nellis on Dec. 18 requesting that the university voluntarily recognize those employees as a union.

The representatives requested that OU respond to that request by today, Thursday, Jan. 2, although at this point it doesn’t look as if the university will make a decision by then (more on that below).

Steve Roth, state director for organizing with AFSCME Council 8 (the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees), said last week that an “overwhelming majority” of the classified staff at OU have signed cards in support of unionizing.

The Local 1699 chapter of AFSCME Council 8 has long represented more than 700 skilled-trade workers at OU. If approved, the potential classified union group would be a separate chapter from the 1699 chapter, and would represent hundreds of clerical staff, library staff, administrative assistants and others.

This staff at OU has long been considered for potential unionization efforts; The NEWS has references to such attempts going back to at least 1998 in its archives (the effort in 1998 failed by roughly 50 votes, The NEWS reported at the time). Another effort took place in the late 1980s.

Roth explained that the request shared with the university in mid-December is a “friendly request,” asking the OU administration to recognize the classified staff as a union that can collectively bargain with the university.

“Once we agree to the terms and conditions of what the scope of the bargaining unit is, we’re prepared to file with the state,” Roth said. “There’s two ways we could file it… as a voluntary recognition, which expedites the process, or we could file for a certification election.”

OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood provided a copy of a letter last Friday (Dec. 27) that was sent from OU’s Office of Legal Affairs on Dec. 24, asserting that the union’s request does not meet minimum requirements under Ohio Revised Code for a request for voluntary union recognition.

Michael Courtney, associate general counsel with OU, requested that the classified staff’s organizing committee present a formal filing with the Ohio State Employee Relations Board (SERB), with supporting documents backing up the claims of majority support for the union effort.

“...There is a long tradition of strong, productive and positive relationships between Ohio University management and the university’s organized labor groups, especially AFSCME Council 8,” Courtney wrote. “The appreciation for positive labor relationships has been clearly demonstrated as administrative officials have respected the efforts of the Ohio University Classified Organizing Committee and remained neutral… It is also imperative to highlight the appreciation and deference given to the formal processes outlined in Ohio Revised Code that afford fairness and neutrality during the collective bargaining recognition process.”

Courtney added that the Jan. 2 deadline does not provide the university enough time for it to review the request.

Asked about OU’s letter last Friday, Roth responded, “We have everything ready to go” with regard to supporting documents to send to Ohio’s SERB.

However, Roth said the classified staff’s representatives want to sit down with the university first to discuss what the bargaining unit will “look like,” before sending that documentation to SERB.

“We want a harmonious relationship working with them (OU administration); we strive for that with the existing bargaining unit, and we’ll strive for that with this unit as well,” Roth said.

In the initial letter to Nellis, the classified staff’s organizing committee noted the importance of its employees’ work for university operations.

“We do important and invaluable work at the university and believe that we should be able to participate in the collective bargaining process,” the organizing committee wrote. “As you know, labor has a rich history and tradition in our state and region. We have been talking to our coworkers over the past several months at every campus about the possibility of forming a union, and the response has been overwhelming.”

Roth noted that the classified staff’s initial request for recognition was paired with a series of letters of support from various local and regional elected officials, including Athens City Council, the Athens County Commissioners and Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville.

It’s not clear what the next step will be in this process. Roth said he hopes that further discussions could happen before the formal filing with the Ohio SERB.

Courtney as well said in his Dec. 24 letter that he’s looking forward to “further discussions surrounding your campaign efforts and request for recognition.”

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