JEFFERSON, Ohio – Showing a united front of all non-teaching workers in the Jefferson School District, 125 members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)/Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 419 struck the Jefferson School District Nov. 4. AFSCME Field Representative Joe Eck said, “the board continues to demand massive concessions, despite the fact that we’ve been telling them for months that we will not make the concessions they seek. They left us no choice but to implement a strike.”

Local 419 members, acknowledging the fact that the school district was suffering from a critical shortage of funds, agreed to a six-month wage freeze for the first half of 2001. The local also agreed to a six-month extension of the existing contract to give the voters a chance to pass a school levy the district desperately needed. Local union officers and members worked hard for the levy, which passed and put much needed money into district coffers.

The contract extension ended Nov. 6, with no agreement, despite the fact that discussions on a new contract began in May. The school board began with a list of “massive concessions” with no change, despite 13 bargaining sessions, including six with a mediator. The board wants to “cut fringe benefits, reduce employe job-bidding rights, cut field trip pay for bus drivers and to have broader authority to lay off employees,” said Eck.

Marilyn Countryman, a parent of a student in the district wrote a letter to the editor of the Star Beacon asking why the board can’t come to an agreement with the employees, “yet they can hire a private security firm” for the strike. “We the taxpayers have to pay for this?” she wrote. “I think it would be less expensive to meet the demands of the employees.”

Countryman was referring to Huffmaster Crises Management, a notorious ‘security’ outfit used in a number of strikes in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

These mercenary strikebreakers don’t come cheap, Huffmaster was paid $5,500 dollars per day by the Canton Library in Ohio.

Many of the hired goons are soldiers of fortune with quasi-military training, and many have questionable backgrounds with criminal records. They should all be checked out carefully by local police, as the pickets are demanding, not thrown into public schools to “protect” children from those who care for them, drive them to school, feed them in the school cafeteria, maintain their schools!

Michael Tadsen, president of Local 419, said there will be no “bus and cafeterial service for students, no boiler operators, no custodians, no educational aides, no nursing assistants, no secretaries, no maintenance personnel or crossing guards at Jefferson schools.”

“We ask for nothing but a meager wage increase,” he said. “We just want to keep what we already have.”

Local 419 members are receiving strong community support. Local temp agencies are refusing to send their clients into the schools, forcing the Board to seek strikebreakers from outside the county.

Most parents are refusing to send their children to school, resulting in attendance of only 10 to 20 percent. Members of other unions are building picket shelters and stacking firewood for warmth and protection from cold weather.