ASHTABULA, Ohio – For months Ohio’s public employees’ unions have been sounding the alarm over Governor Taft and the right-wing Republican Legislature cutting funding for government services. The full impact of these cuts is now being felt at the local level with shrinking staff and attacks on wages, benefits and working conditions, resulting in three strikes by members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 14, in Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties in Northeast Ohio.
After months of fruitless negotiations, workers at Jobs and Family Services (JFS) workers, the welfare agency in the counties, set up picket lines at three JFS offices here Oct. 29. All services, from child support to job assistance to food stamps to welfare checks, are suffering.
Union members say they care for their clients and some are giving free assistance to underprivileged people they know who are not getting the assistance they may desperately need.
On the picket line, Charisse Green assisted one of her clients who had left the JFS office without receiving the help he needed. “We are in a service-oriented business and care about our clients and are here to help,” she said. Many clients have walked the picket lines in support of the workers.
County Commissioner Ray Boggs, former minority leader in the Ohio Legislature, blames state budget cuts for the need to penalize county workers with increased payments for medical costs, eliminating contract language covering working conditions, weakening seniority and other rights of employees contained in the previous contract and refusing to grant cost-of-living wage increases. This is despite the fact that the Local 14 contract expired in August and negotiations started early in the spring of 2001.
County workers aren’t buying the “no money” argument, stating in a flyer that the county has plenty of money to “pay a security firm from out of the county to make themselves safe from their own employees, most of whom are women who have served the community for years!”
They also refer to $10,000 annual pay increases granted to a number of county public officials, some of which were mandated by the same state legislature that refuses to provide economic justice to hard working, dedicated public workers.