ELYRIA TWP. — Nonunion employees are working overtime at Lorain County Job and Family Services as a strike involving its union employees enters its fifth day.
Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes said Thursday the county has a plan to go forward with the small available workforce, which includes managers and about a dozen or so other workers.
About 170 employees represented by the United Automobile Workers Local 2192 began striking Monday at 12:01 a.m. after attempts negotiate a contract broke down over the issue of spousal health care coverage.
Both sides say they’ve already agreed to all other points of the contract.
The workers have been without a contract since Sept. 14, 2016, when the last three-year agreement expired.
The contention is over a surcharge the county would issue to employees whose spouses can receive health care through their own employer but want to stay on the county plan.
Kelly Fields, chair of the union’s bargaining committee, said workers have been asking for figures related to the surcharge for more than a year but the county has failed to provide any.
Cordes said the county has guaranteed the surcharge would not go into place before 2019, and because of that, the exact cost to employees is impossible to calculate.
“We’ve tried to deal in percentages because we don’t know what the cost will be,” Cordes said. “I don’t even know what the (health care) rates will be for 2018. We don’t have that yet, so how am I going to know what ’19, ’20, ’21 will be?”
In a letter to commissioners, the union equated the surcharge to asking for workers to sign a “blank check.”
“Think of it this way, it would be like going to buy a car and the salesman handing you the keys and sending you the final bill at a later date,” Fields said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Each side believes the other is manipulating facts for public favor as well.
According to the statement from workers, the commissioners are using tax dollars for damage control and have “kept the minimal staff of (the agency) busy on the agency’s Facebook page and website updating, reviewing and deleting responses.
“Obviously the image of these career politicians is more important than responsibly spending our tax dollars or using the staff in the agency to continue to administer those much needed benefits,” the statement says.
Cordes said updating the public on the strike is not tying up employees and the agency has been able to keep up with the workload.
“We’re a little slow, but I’m looking at the data every day, and we’re able to keep up,” Cordes said.
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