Head Start workers may strike Jan. 31

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

Picket signs may soon sprout up throughout Lawrence County.

Members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 170 have issued a Jan. 31 strike date against the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.

The union represents more than 100 Head Start daycare workers, custodial and maintenance workers, cooks and bus drivers. The old contract expired Dec. 31.

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The strike notice comes after a five-hour session with a federal mediator Wednesday night failed to produce a resolution.

"The union made substantial movement to resolve this at the table. Management made no concessions on security of benefits and security of hours," OAPSE Field Representative Karen Kuehne said. "Unless we get some kind of security, we will be on the picket line. The potential is there, very much so."

Kuehne emphasized the disagreement does not pertain to money, but to job security.

Some union workers saw their work hours reduced to part-time, therefore eliminating their eligibility for medical and other benefits. The agency contends the cuts were necessary because of state funding decreases. The union maintains only union workers were hurt by cutbacks.

CAO Director of Human Resources James Ingram said the agency's negotiating team took a step toward resolution by offering a final proposal but he said the OAPSE negotiating team quickly rejected it.

"We completed negotiations late Wednesday night and OAPSE notified us prior to 8 a.m. the next morning that the Local rejected our offer. We are concerned that our employees may not have had the opportunity to properly review and consider our offer," he said.

Kuehne said CAO officials told the union at the table if the rank and file did not approve the final offer by

Jan. 18, the agency would consider implementing certain parts of the proposal anyway.

Ingram said no further negotiations are scheduled at this time.

"We were able to narrow things down to four economic issues, but the Local's demands were unrealistic and impossible to meet under the current budget constraints of our Head Start program," he said.