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February 16, 2024

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Former BGSU officials linked to Ohio Senate Bill 5 language

The recent release of public records relating to Ohio Senate Bill 5 has reopened old wounds between the University’s administrators and faculty union.

The documents reveal Sean FitzGerald, the University’s general counsel, crafted the bill’s amendment excluding professors from collective bargaining eligibility.

The amendment came about half a year after the University’s faculty voted to unionize through the American Association of University Professors.

Representatives from the union, called the Faculty Association, said the revelation was disappointing, and its timing “couldn’t have been a coincidence.”

“Officials at this University specifically suggested this and came up with the language, and I have no doubt in my mind that this was a response to our democratic vote to unionize,” said Andrew Schocket, FA communications director. “We’re really shocked that any university would do this to faculty at unionized campuses across Ohio.”

The Inter-University Council, an association representing Ohio’s public University presidents-including former president Carol Cartwright-submitted the Senate Bill 5 amendment using FitzGerald’s language, which was eventually signed into law March 31 by Gov. John Kasich.

“Here’s what we submitted to [State Sen. Kevin] Bacon’s office,” Mike Suver, the IUC’s vice president of government relations, said in February in an email obtained via public records request. “We used Sean’s language.”

Suver refers to the amendment in a separate email as “the BGSU amendment,” explaining the IUC’s final copy “is not inconsistent with the BGSU amendment, only a little broader.”

Bruce Johnson, president of the IUC, said the amendment language was agreed upon as a council to remain consistent with federal standards-through the U.S. Supreme Court case NLRB v. Yeshiva, private university faculty are ineligible for collective bargaining.

“If someone is suggesting the reason this language is in the bill is that it emanated from BGSU, they are absolutely incorrect,” Johnson said. “I proposed this solution in my testimony to the council before Sean was consulted on the language.”

FitzGerald was not the first or only one to consider applying the policy to the Ohio law, Johnson said.

“We had a number of lawyers involved in the drafting process, and Sean was one of them,” he said. “I don’t think his role was primary, but he was involved. I think that’s obvious.”

FitzGerald agreed with Johnson and said the amendment was passed through the “usual legislative process.”

“Senate Bill 5 was drafted by the legislature and enacted by the legislature,” FitzGerald said. “The implication that it was done in a backroom deal is not accurate. As with every bill, it was a public process, and the legislature was the author at the end of the day.”

Senate Bill 5 is currently on hold until a referendum is voted upon in the November election. The faculty union and administrators are currently bargaining for their first contract and will continue to until the election results have been announced.

If the administration wants a better relationship with faculty, the administration should voluntarily recognize the faculty union regardless of the vote, Schocket said.

Throughout the bargaining process, the FA also hopes the administration will move forward more quickly and renounce the previous administration’s decisions-both actions that would foster better trust at the University, Schocket said.

“A lot of faculty are already angry and mistrustful about the administration because of broken promises and its position all along on collective bargaining,” he said. “We have a nice, new tone this year, but until that tone is backed by concrete action, it’s going to be hard for any faculty member to trust and work collaboratively with the administration.”

In an email statement released Thursday, University President Mary Ellen Mazey said she could not comment on the University’s past position.

“I came to Bowling Green with the understanding that our faculty had formed a union,” Mazey said. “One of the top priorities of my administration is to negotiate the first contract with our faculty, and we have begun that process. We are moving forward under the current law.”

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