Strike at Wright State

By Ben Ratliffe

For twenty days this winter, from January 22 to February 10, mem­bers of the Wright State University AAUP chapter were on strike to defend faculty rights and the right of students to a high-quality education.

AAUP-WSU’s negotiating team had spent almost two years work­ing to reach an agreement on a new contract, with negotiators for the administration routinely refusing to meet with the union’s negotia­tors. During this period, the chapter recruited and trained nearly fifty liaisons—or department representa­tives—to speak with members face to face and act as conduits between members and the union leader­ship. With assistance from national AAUP staff, the chap­ter ran two campaigns of office visits, assess­ing member concerns, answering questions, and gauging member support for escalating the contract campaign.

In November 2018, when more than 95 percent of union members voted to reject a report drawn up by a state mediator, the administra­tion refused to respond to requests to negotiate. Then, on January 2, the board of trustees unilater­ally imposed a contract even more punitive than the mediator’s report.

On January 22, AAUP-WSU went #Red4Ed and the strike began. Faculty members walked picket lines through rain, snow, and blisteringly cold weather wearing their signature red scarves and holding red signs reading, “On Strike for Wright.”

They were supported by a new organization called Students for Faculty, which organized picket support and a sit-in at the admin­istrative building that lasted two days. The chapter also received support from many other AAUP chapters, local labor unions, and community organizations.

Over the weekend of February 9, the board of trustees backed down from its attempt to impose a contract and met with AAUP negotiators. The tentative agree­ment, still pending ratification when this issue went to press, included cuts in health care and summer teaching salaries but forced the administration to con­cede significantly on retrenchment, furloughs, workload, continuing contracts for non-tenure-track faculty, and future rights to bargain health care.

The AAUP-WSU strike demon­strated that, despite the fact that the board had the state-sanctioned right to impose a contract unilater­ally, a faculty strike could force it to negotiate. It also showed that, when they elect to take collective action, faculty can rely on other unions and community organizations to support them. Finally, as has been clear in other movements across the country, the strike proved that students are not simply recipients of a university education but can also organize to defend it.