By DENISE DICK
Youngstown State University called off a planned strike just hours after the union rejected what the university administration called its final, best offer.
At 7 p.m., Sherry Linkon, a spokeswoman for the more than 400-member union, announced the offer was rejected by a “pretty substantial majority.”
“We’re very sorry to have to go on strike,” Linkon told members of the media.
But shortly after 10 p.m., Linkon issued a news release reversing from announced strike plans.
“Youngstown State University’s faculty union has decided to call off the strike scheduled for Friday. This will allow classes to begin on Monday,” she said in a statement.
“Just as the students stood up for us, we are now standing up for the students. Continuing to work will release financial aid for the students and ensure that the fall semester will start on time,” she said.
Ron Cole, YSU spokesman said: “We are pleasantly surprised by this turn of events and the union’s decision not to strike. At this time we are prepared and willing to sit down with the union and hear what they have to say.”
Most importantly, this will mean that classes will start as planned on Monday. It also means that the process of disbursing financial aid to student will begin today, he said.
“As we’ve said all along, these are difficult times for the university. We are facing enormous budget challenges that require sacrifices across the campus,” Cole said.
Linkon said the executive committee hopes its action will not weaken the union’s bargaining position. It recently described a strike as the organizations’s best bargaining chip.
But, she said, a strike comes with a lot of cost for a lot of people. This helps demonstrate to the community how reasonable we are being and have been during negotiations. “We hope the YSU administration will respond in a similar spirit,” Linkon said.
She said there had not been time to gauge the response to the membership to the action. “We hope they will understand. We think we will have their support,”
There were some members who suggested this path this afternoon, so it should not have come as a complete surprise, Linkon said.
She said a membership meeting had not been scheduled but said one would probably be called next week.
Earlier in the evening, YSU
President Cynthia E. Anderson had issued a statement expressing the university’s disappointment in the vote to strike.
“We recognize that this is a difficult contract, and we understand that accepting concessions is not easy. These are, however, unprecedented economic times for the university, the state and the nation. The budgetary challenges we face are enormous. Sacrifice by all is necessary in order for the university to live within its means this year and into the future.”
The union has contended that though members are willing to make some concessions in recognition of the economy, they believe the university can afford more than what’s being offered.
Stan Guzell, chief negotiator for the faculty, said the university has the money but wants to use it for other goals.
“It’s not that they don’t have the money, it’s that they want to spend it on things that don’t include” the faculty union, he said.
Later in the evening Guzell called on the university to return to the bargaining table.
“We hope to continue talks as soon as possible.”
Sudershan Garg, chairman of the YSU Board of Trustees, said in a statement that the board stands unified and firmly behind the contract offer.
“The board’s responsibility is to ensure the financial viability of this institution, and we take that responsibility seriously,” he said. “This was our last, best and final offer; it represents the steps needed to help the university regain its financial footing. I had hoped that the faculty would recognize that.”
The offer called for no raises in the first two years with a 2 percent increase in the third. It also called for increased contributions for health care with union members’ increase phased in over the life of the pact.
The just-expired contract provides that the union contribute 1.5 percent of salaries to health insurance premiums for a family plan and 0.75 percent for a single plan.
The university’s proposal called for faculty to pay 10 percent of the premium the first year, 12 percent in the second year and 15 percent in the third year, according to a university statement. YSU’s proposal also calls for higher deductibles and co-pays paid by the union.
Though faculty salary minimums are $75,674 for professors, $64,215 for associate professors, $51,238 for assistant professors and $38,689 for instructors, the university pointed out that the average faculty salary is $72,213.
Salaries range from $39,832 to $161,321, according to YSU.
YSU also wants a reduction in pay for summer school, from 3.75 percent of their nine-month salary per credit hour that they teach to
3 percent of their nine-month salary per credit hour to teach a summer course. The summer school pay is in addition to what faculty members earn during the nine-month school year.
The university has said the cost of its last, best offer to each faculty member would be about $1,000 per year for the increased health- care contribution. That doesn’t include summer school and some of the other reductions.
The union put that estimate at between $5,000 and $10,000 including summer school.
The university’s statement said that this summer, 53 faculty members were paid between $15,000 and $20,000 for summer school; 26 were paid between $20,000 and $25,000; 13 were paid $25,000 to $30,000; and seven were paid more than $30,000.
Guzell said the fact-finder’s report previously rejected by university trustees would cost the university about $1.3 million over the three-year contract. The 3.5 percent tuition increase in effect this fall is expected to generate about $3.2 million, he said.
The union had been expected to begin picketing about 8 a.m. today.
Regardless of a strike, the university had planned for operations to continue as usual today. The first day of fall semester classes is scheduled for Monday.
The U.S. Department of Education had directed YSU not to disburse financial aid until the threat of a strike is removed.
While the voting was going on, a group of about 40 student supporters of the union chanted in support of the faculty outside of the building.
Linkon said members could hear the students from inside of the Butler North church building where they were voting and it was encouraging.
Anderson, in a letter to students, acknowledged the difficulty of the situation.
“I know this a worrisome, stressful and uncertain time for all students,” she wrote. “I also know that some of you are angry, and I understand that as well. I ask for your patience. While it may be hard to see past all of the turmoil, the administration and faculty remain committed to your success here at YSU. We will get through this.”