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BREAKING | YSU-OEA strike ends; details expected today

After spending more than eight hours at the negotiating table leading into the early hours this morning, Youngstown State University administration and the university's faculty union came to an agreement that ended the union's first strike in 15 years. 

YOUNGSTOWN — After spending more than eight hours at the negotiating table leading into the early hours this morning, the Youngstown State University administration and the university's faculty union came to an agreement that ended the union's first strike in 15 years. 

According to a YSU-OEA letter, an agreement was reached at 2 a.m. No details about the agreement are available yet. Statements from the union and the university are expected this morning. 

"We are calling all of you off the sidewalks and virtual streets!" the letter from bargaining team member Suz Clutter said.

Later, in a statement to the campus, YSU President Jim Tressel said, "The union and university administration reached an understanding for the general framework on a new three-year contract and will work out details for a tentative agreement later today.

"Classes will be held as usual today," he said. "Our thanks to all students for your patience and understanding over these past few days. Contract negotiations can be very stressful; we are glad to have this behind us."

The campus community — students, staff, faculty — likely greeted the news with bleary eyes, many having stayed up late for the second night in a row as talks that began at 9 p.m. dragged late into the night. No updates were provided by either side during the talks, creating uncertainty as to whether the YSU-OEA strike would enter Day 4 today.

There was more drama during the day when the administration offered a new contract proposal late in the afternoon that included increasing base salaries by 4 percent, according to a university news release.

The new proposal includes no pay raise in the first year and base pay raises of 2 percent in both the second and third years, the university said. The last proposal called for base raises of 0, 1 and 2 percent.

In that release, Tressel said, “The terms of this offer, we believe, are such that we hope to resolve this contract today.”

It turned out to be prophetic.

Throughout Wednesday — the third and final day of the strike — students, politicians and local businesses came out to support the union. Along WIck Avenue, strikers and supporters munched on donated pizza from West Side Bowl and Belleria and sandwiches from Jimmy Johns. 

Although classes resumed Wednesday after a short fall break, campus was quiet. The only signs of the nearby strike were sporadic chalk messages and a few strike stragglers holding signs as they walked across the green on the mild October afternoon.

Provost Brien Smith announced that classes during the strike would be taught by "full-time faculty who have chosen not to go on strike, part-time faculty and other qualified instructors."

YSU freshman Nader Kassem’s classes weren’t really interrupted Wednesday because most of his teachers are part-time and thus not in the union or striking. 

But his chemistry class is taught by a striking professor; Kassem said during the strike, he’s been unable to access Blackboard "so I can't study for anything."

“I just want to learn,” he said. 

When asked if he's familiar with the issues, he said, "I just know it's something about the contract. I'm guessing it has to do with money and health care."

Bri Kerr, who is a freshman, sat at a table on campus after class Monday.

“I've been trying to keep up with all the emails," Kerr said. "I’m not really sure what it’s about, but I don't have too big of an opinion on it, because I've been trying to keep up with it but just having a hard time."

What Kerr said reflected the analysis of a few students on the picket line. Students in smaller programs seemed more likely to be connected with professors and feel more passionately about the issues. 

That was the case for philosophy students Eva Lamberson, Lucas Tomory and Michael Factor. They visited a friend in Connecticut for fall break and drove straight to the picket line on their way home. 

“Our bags are still packed in her car," Michael Factor said, gesturing to his friend, fellow junior Lamberson.

"Sure, administration is needed for a university, but we don't learn from administration," Factor said. "[YSU-OEA spokesperson] Dr. Mark Vopat is our professor. We're philosophy students. If he's being underpaid, we're being underserved.

Local democratic politicians  — including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland and state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown — also made appearances on the picket line Wednesday.

Ryan joined strikers on Wick Avenue on Wednesday. Lepore-Hagan and her husband, Bob Hagan, joined the picket line late Wednesday afternoon after driving in from Washington, D.C. 

“It’s not only about salary. There are other issues you have to understand. It’s about workplace dignity. It’s about having a say for what happens in your department and your programs as a faculty member and protecting your intellectual property. And it’s about protecting your colleagues,” Lepore-Hagan said in a news release.

Lepore-Hagan explained her father worked at YSU and helped start the faculty union. 

In a statement Saturday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown voiced support for the union. 

“I stand in solidarity with the YSU staff, and urge the administration to negotiate in good faith, quickly to ensure these educators are able to continue providing a high-quality education for YSU’s students,” Brown wrote. 

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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