CAO-OAPSE talks hit an impasse

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 30, 2004

After less than an hour at the bargaining table Wednesday evening, negotiators for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization called it a night and ended contract talks with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 170, which represents the agency's Head Start employees.

"We didn't resolve the contract," CAO Director of Human Resources James Ingram said. "We did suggest to the union that we may be at an impasse and the union took it under advisement."

The Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Services will now be called in to help the two sides reach an agreement. OAPSE Field Representative Karen Kuehne said a strike by the Head Start workers is now a "real possibility, unfortunately."

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The union represents approximately 110 bus drivers, cooks, teachers, child care workers, maintenance and custodial workers at nine head start sites throughout the county.

Kuehne said the two major stumbling blocks to a new contract are health care coverage and job security. Workers are upset that some bus drivers and child care workers recently watched their work hours reduced, and in turn lost their health care benefits because they were no longer full-time employees entitled to company benefits.

Kuehne said the negotiators for the agency came to the bargaining table Wednesday night with an unacceptable proposal that would have affected health care for remaining employees. "Their proposal has a cap on the amount the CAO would pay toward union rates, so when rates go up, union employees would have absorb that increase," Kuehne said.

Kuehne said the CAO negotiators have so far refused any proposals that would secure hours for union employees. "I'm not disputing that funds have been cut," Kuehne said. "What we are disputing is how it is being handled.

This is not an economic issue. …We're not asking for a wage increase. This is a fairness and quality issue."

Kuehne said the union proposal called for no wage increase the first year of the contract, and called for reopening discussions on wages the next two years of the contract if management would follow the same guidelines. It was rejected by the CAO negotiations team.

Ingram said the CAO negotiating team wants to refrain from making a media event out of the contract talks and plans to keep issues private until a resolution can be attained.

"We do not want to discuss individual issues because of the complexity of the issues. We just don't want to try and review those in the media. They are complex and not something that can be reviewed simply. We'd like to continue to keep this in-house between the union and us."

Ingram said in spite of the lack of agreement Wednesday night, the agency officials remain hopeful the two sides can reach and agreement.

The contract between the CAO and the union expires today.