Monday, October 22, 2018 Elyria 34°

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Striking JFS workers demonstrate at commissioners' meeting


ELYRIA — Lorain County Job and Family Services union employees who have been on strike for nearly two weeks showed up at Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting in droves, wearing red shirts and at one time shouting “union strong” toward the end of the meeting.

About 170 employees represented by United Auto Workers Local 2192 have been striking since 12:01 a.m. Sept. 25 after contract negotiations broke down over spousal health care coverage.

Commissioners want a contract that if an employee’s spouse has insurance available through his employer, the spouse would be required to be on his or her employer’s plan while county employees and children would stay on the county plan. If the spouse doesn’t have access to employer insurance or makes less than $25,000, the spouse could stay on the county plan.

If the spouse wants to stay on the county plan and does not meet any of the criteria, commissioners want the county employee to pay a surcharge in addition to the plan’s cost.

Kelly Fields, chairwoman of the union bargaining committee, has said the union’s only issue with this is that the county has not said what the surcharge would cost and likened it to commissioners asking workers to sign a blank check.

Visitors speaking in support of the union had biting words for the commissioners.

Mary Heck of Elyria said she wanted to know how much commissioners were spending on the out-of-state security firm brought in during the strike. She said it was a waste of money and wondered how long the firm would be on the job.

Hours after the meeting, a memo from the commissioners’ office announced the contract with Huffmaster to provide security at the building on North Ridge Road was terminated. That notice came after photos posted on Facebook showed uniformed security workers clustered around a picnic table in sight of striking employees.

“The security company was clearly instructed by the county to monitor the internal and external environment of the JFS Building from inside,” the notice from the county read. “Instead, the clustering of guards in plain sight of picketers sent the wrong message and purpose of their assignment. Their actions were insensitive and stupid. Such behavior by this security firm or any other in the future will not be condoned.”

Security guards are not there because of the striking employees but to maintain the safety of everyone, the county stated.

“The county is concerned about the possibility of an outside party being disruptive or confrontation by someone wanting to express their anger at or frustration with government,” the county notice further read. “If an altercation were to happen, security is instructed to call the Sheriff’s Department and provide assistance until help arrives.”

AFIMAC GLOBAL of Strongsville was the new security firm on site.

The company started Monday at an average cost of between $10,000 and $14,000 per week for security service during the strike.

Heck also raised concerns about how the lingering strike would impact Lorain County.

“It has affected the whole community. It trickles down to even the smallest businesses,” she said.

Heck contends that parents with children in daycare with subsidized vouchers are taking a big hit.

“They are being turned away daily from daycares because their vouchers have not been made,” she said. “It’s time you bargained fairly with this group of hard-working taxpayers of the county.”

According to figures provided by the county, the phone system at the building went down last week, but is 100 percent operational. Work continues in the building as well with the public assistance desk having served 440 clients Monday and Tuesday with an average wait time of between 50 and 75 minutes.

Food assistance, emergency cases, childcare vouchers and Medicaid continue to be priorities with the state, and Ohio Director of Medicaid offering help to the local agency.

Jerry Donovan, a retired UAW official, said any comparison county officials make to health benefits received by employees of another entity is comparing apples to oranges. This came after Commissioner Ted Kalo during his remarks spoke about how Lorain City Council approved a collective bargaining agreement of its own Monday for city workers in Local USW Local 6621 that included considerable health cost increases. Council members there also voted on a resolution in support of the union.

“Since they want to be vocal in what we do, I think it is interesting in what they have done for their own employees,” he said.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said the commissioners want to go back to the table with the union. They have asked three times, she said.

“We are trying to get to the position where we can go back to the bargaining table,” she said.

The meeting ended with applause from union members, and one man yelled out, “how strong?”

The room erupted in a resounding, “union strong.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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