COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) — The Ohio State Employment Relations Board (SERB) voted unanimously Friday to reject the Youngstown City School District’s complaint saying that the Youngstown Education Association teachers strike is illegal. The board ruled that the strike is legal.
The decision came in about 3:20 p.m. following a hearing in Columbus Friday morning.
Attorney Jeff Geisinger, representing the teachers, said he thinks the board made the right decision.
“The parties have had a mutually agreed upon dispute (MAD) resolution process in place for more than 40 years. That process has been used prior to lawful strikes on four separate occasions. It’s a good outcome for the union and the individuals who took the bold step to go on strike,” Geisinger said.
Geisinger said the teachers are ready to negotiate.
Lawyers for the Youngstown School Board and its teachers union presented their cases on the legality of the strike earlier at the hearing.
Attorney Dan Guttman, representing the school board, spoke first, claiming that, according to state law, a fact finder must be part of the negotiations before a strike can legally take place.
Guttman said the board requested the use of a fact finder, but the teachers union went on strike before a fact finder could be assigned and be part of negotiations.
“We could not find one case in the history of the state of Ohio… where a party was allowed to strike under these circumstances,” Guttman said.
Geisinger presented the case for the teachers union, stating that all contracts with the school board, dating to the mid-1980s, have contained the MAD provision.
The MAD, said Geisinger, “supersedes the statutory process.”
“The school board is trying to stop a lawful strike with delay tactics,” he added. “It’s just another example of the kind of shameful tactics that they’ve been using throughout this process.”
Later Friday afternoon, the Youngstown City School Board met. At the meeting, members of the board went into executive session immediately after starting the meeting. That executive session lasted for about an hour.
YEA spokesperson Jim Courim says they remain optimistic.
“We’re very glad that the SERB board voted unanimously on our side. It was a little expected by us because we’ve checked all of our boxes. Now, it’s time for the district and the board to do what they’re supposed to do,” Courim said.
School Board President Tiffany Patterson says language in the contract appears to be what is stalling negotiations.
“We still are under academic distress so a lot of things that YEA would like for us to remove from the contract we really can’t legally take out because we still have at least two more years. We have benchmarks to meet. We don’t want to fall back under state control,” Patterson said.
Parents at the meeting appeared to be frustrated. One parent said that depending on how long this strike lasts, she’s considering pulling her children from the district.
Both the district and teachers union say they hope to continue negotiations next week.
In another strike-related note, Youngstown Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor confirmed the school board has filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court against the YEA.
Batchelor says the TRO was necessary after teachers continued to prevent food trucks from delivering from the central kitchen behind the Choffin Career and Technical Center.
Details of the TRO are not known at this time.
On Thursday, both sides had something to say about the future of the walkout.
About half of Youngstown’s 400 striking teachers rallied Thursday afternoon outside Volney Rogers Elementary School. Courim was asked, what will the teachers do if Ohio’s State Employment Relations Board rules their strike is illegal?
“We will have to see what is asked of us, but if we are asked to go back to work on Monday, we’ll be in the classroom on Monday… If we’re ordered to go back on Monday, we will be back in the classroom on Monday,” Courim said.
Batchelor commented on the teachers abiding by an order.
“Well, I would hope so, and we would welcome them back. We’re ready for them to be back. We didn’t want them to be out in the first place,” Batchelor said.
The rally was also a way to support Volney art teacher Shane Snyder, who was hit by a car on Wednesday while walking the picket line.
“He’s out of the hospital. He’s at home resting. He’s still in a lot of pain but he’s out of the hospital, which is great news for us,” Courim said.
“I can’t really comment on that because there’s an investigation part that is happening with that. Police were involved yesterday. We do recognize that. So we just want to send our best to the individual who was contacted,” Batchelor said.
During the rally, the gate leading to the school was left open, and Batchelor hopes all entrances and exits stay open.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had some situations where parents haven’t been able to get into the property. Some staff members have been turned away. We respect their ability, their right to picket, but we can’t block ingresses and egresses,” Batchelor said.
“Something we’re teaching our students is the universal expectations, which is to be respectful, be responsible and be safe. Unfortunately, we’re not showing that right now,” Courim said.