ELYRIA TWP. — Unionized workers at the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services walked off the job Monday as part of a long-running dispute with the county commissioners over contract negotiations.
“We’ve been trying to get a contract with the employer and we were not able to do it, and the only action we had left was a strike action,” said Jim Waingrow, an international representative for the United Auto Workers.
In a news release issued Monday evening, the commissioners said they have been trying to reach a deal with the 164-member UAW Local 2192 since July, including a nearly eight-hour mediation session on Saturday.
Although county officials said they couldn’t comment on what happened during mediation, they did include a list of the issues separating the two sides during the last offers, exchanged on Dec. 2.
The release said the union wants a 4.78 percent raise for workers in the first year of the contract while the county wants to give employees a 3 percent raise. Both sides had agreed to a 2.5 percent raise in the second year of the contact and a 2.25 percent raise in the third year.
County Administrator Jim Cordes said the average hourly wage of union members is a little more than $15 per hour.
The union also has demanded an additional week of vacation, paid lunches and breaks and an additional day of sick leave.
The union’s bargaining committee chairwoman, Kelly Fields, declined to comment on the release or the strike, including suggestions from the county that some of the striking workers simply stopped helping clients at the agency when they walked off the job.
Cordes said Job and Family Services Director Mary Lou Golski told him that’s what happened when some workers left their desks about 9 a.m. Monday. The workers then went outside their North Ridge Road offices and held signs on a picket line in cold weather throughout the day.
The release said that Job and Family Services will be open for business with non-bargaining workers and anyone who chooses to show up for work handling services.
The dispute between the two sides has been deepening for months with union officials making appearances at commissioners’ meetings to complain about the treatment of workers, upgraded security measures at the agency and the law firm of Clemons Nelson, which is handling negotiations on behalf of the county.
“We need a contract that provides for productivity for the employer and provides a decent and respectful workplace for the employees,” Waingrow said.
The State Employment Relations Board also has weighed in with a fact-finding report issued in October that recommended the county’s wage increase offerings of 3 percent in the first year, 2.5 percent in the second year and 2.25 percent in the third year be accepted.
That was compatible with raises the county had given to other unions whose contracts were reviewed this year, the county argued. The report noted that consistency across contracts is an important factor to consider.
The report also noted that the union was seeking 3 percent increases for each year of the contract at the time the report was issued.
Both sides also have filed complaints against each other. The union last week accused the county of unfair labor practices, including allegations that Commissioner Ted Kalo had improperly discussed the dispute with a union member.
The county has suggested that the strike is improper because the union has been sending 10-day strike notices for some time. Cordes said the idea behind a strike notice is so an employer can prepare for a strike.
But he said the union has been issuing new strike notices on a daily basis, improperly putting the county on indefinite notice that a strike could happen at any time. Cordes argued that each new strike notice canceled out the previous one.
Because the last 10-day strike notice was issued Dec. 16, Cordes said, the union wasn’t entitled to walk off the job until Dec. 26.
A hearing on that issue is scheduled for Thursday in Columbus.