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UPDATE | YSU employee unions vote 'no confidence' in university's COVID-19 response

YSU administrators' internal communications suggest they were slow to set a mask mandate because 'not many people are being hospitalized or dying,' according to union leadership.
YSU sign NEW
(Photo by William D. Lewis | Mahoning Matters)

YOUNGSTOWN — Members of two of Youngstown State University's employee unions have voted "no confidence" in the university administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Vopat, spokesperson for the Ohio Education Association's YSU membership, motioned for a vote of no confidence during a Wednesday Academic Senate meeting:


The union has also filed a grievance against the university, alleging it has failed to provide a safe and healthy working environment, as required under the union's collective bargaining agreement.

A hearing on the grievance is expected "in a couple weeks," according to a Friday evening news release from the union.

YSU-OEA President Susan Clutter said the university still has no "comprehensive" COVID-19 testing or contact tracing plans and has yet to upgrade ventilation and filtration systems in university buildings, despite claiming in August those upgrades had been completed.

The union claims administrators also have ignored its call to institute a vaccine mandate on campus, as have several other universities in Ohio.

“YSU administration has mishandled its COVID-19 response almost from the very beginning," Clutter is quoted in the release. "For example, only after students and faculty protested in August did administration implement an indoor masking policy for the fall 2021 semester, despite knowing their filtration systems were not upgraded across campus as they had promised.

“Since then, its entire response has been mired in inefficiency and a disregard for best practices to ensure the safety of students, staff and the community at large — all while positive case numbers in the Mahoning Valley continue to rise at an alarming rate.”

Classrooms at the university remain at capacity and the university has not implemented any social distancing measures, union representatives have claimed. Though university leadership purchased 10,000 N95-rated masks for faculty, they have yet to be distributed.

“That so many other Ohio universities have managed to put an effective system in place while YSU is still ‘formulating its plans’ is alarming and unacceptable," Clutter said. "[The] administration’s entire response has been about taking unnecessary risks with the lives of faculty, staff, our students and our community.

“From the communications we have seen between those in charge regarding administration’s mitigation plans, their ambivalence when it came to following even local health department recommendations, like instituting a mask mandate, because 'not many people are being hospitalized or dying,' indicates a troubling lack of urgency and understanding of how what happens to our largely commuter-student population at the university affects the entire community."

Youngstown State University's Association of Classified Employees members were polled about issuing a no confidence vote, said YSU-ACE President Chuck Shaffer.

“While we do not support all of OEA’s demands, YSU-ACE decided to stand with OEA and the vote of no confidence in the administration for how they have handled the entirety of the pandemic response,” Shaffer said.

YSU spokesperson Ron Cole said in a statement Friday the university has had "minimal" reports of COVID-19 among students and staff and that local health officials have endorsed the university's efforts.

"For more than 18 months, in close consultation with our public university colleagues across the state, as well as local, county and state health officials, YSU has put into place protocols and procedures (all clearly enumerated on the university’s consistently updated Coronavirus Information webpage) that have resulted in a safe campus and minimal reports of COVID-19 cases among our students and employees," reads the statement. "We have been and will continue to be deliberate, thoughtful and transparent in our response to the ever-evolving pandemic, and we thank students and employees for their continued perseverance."

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