1,000 demonstrate for Ohio schoolworkers

JEFFERSON, Ohio – Over 1,000 strong, organized labor took to the streets here Jan. 26 in support of their striking brothers and sisters in the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE)/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 419.

A huge contingent of OAPSE members, bused in from all parts of Ohio, led off the parade, following a wagon filled with children and elderly unionists and pulled by a team of draft horses, which Local 419 Vice President and strike leader Dave Sachett brought from his farm.

Ohio and County AFL-CIO and AFL-CIO Retiree Council leaders marched behind the schoolworkers, and contingents from a dozen international unions and labor councils formed a line of march a quarter-mile long.

They were joined by delegations from Jobs with Justice, the Jewish Labor Committee and large numbers of children and parents.

Speaking at the rally, Local 419 President Michael Tadsen said, “This is a defensive strike, we are asking for nothing but a meager wage increase. We just want to keep the rights we have had for 30 years. This is union-busting.”

The 92 Jefferson School Board workers went on strike after months of negotiations to get a new contract. They agreed to a wage freeze and a six-month contract extension to give Jefferson voters time to pass a school levy.

With the help of Local 419 members and the Ashtabula County AFL-CIO, the levy passed, providing more funds for the school district.

The board has chosen to thank the schoolworkers by demanding “massive concessions,” said Joe Eck, OAPSE field representative.

The cuts included medical benefits, reducing or eliminating seniority rights for job advancement, cutting field trip pay and credit for hours on the job for bus drivers, and more.

Negotiations have moved to Columbus, the state capital, on orders from the State Employment Relations Board.

Ohio AFL-CIO President Bill Burga and OAPSE Executive Director Joe Rugola keynoted the rally. Pat Cain, chair of the Jefferson Parents Committee, talked of actions parents are taking to support the schoolworkers and end the strike.

“We have spoken at school board meetings, written letters to the newspapers, distributed flyers and now we are circulating a petition to the court to remove the school board members from office,” she said.

The parents’ committee has gathered evidence showing the school board has blown nearly a quarter of a million tax dollars since the start of the strike, thousands more than it would have cost to settle the contract and keep the workers on the job.

Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent to hire a notorious strikebreaking outfit called Huffmaster Crisis Management to go into the schools. Trained workers who have cared for the children for years have been replaced with goons and untrained temporary workers.

Unsanitary conditions in bathrooms and kitchens, lack of medical care and trained counselors for students and many other issues have angered children and parents.

Community leaders have intervened at several levels to help get the dispute settled.

The mayor of Jefferson Village, along with church, political and some local business leaders, are expressing concern over the impact the strike is having on the entire community.