ELYRIA TWP. — Neither side is budging as the Lorain County Job and Family Services strike enters its third week.
“We had a rally today, and we had all our people out there and people come in from other locals,” said Andrea Thomas, co-chair of the bargaining committee for United Auto Workers Local 2192, which represents about 170 employees of the agency. “Our enthusiasm and people’s resolve is still incredibly strong.”
Workers have been on strike since 12:01 a.m. Sept. 25 after talks broke down over the issue of spousal coverage in health care.
Commissioners want a contract stating that if an employee’s spouse has insurance available through his or her 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.
Workers said the issue is that the county hasn’t come through with an estimate on how much a surcharge would be, putting some families in a vulnerable spot.
The county has said that it’s impossible to calculate what the surcharge would be because it wouldn’t go into effect until 2019 and is dependent on health insurance costs at the time. Plus, the county reasoned, workers have been signing contracts for decades that don’t give exact amounts for health care premiums.
Workers responded Tuesday by saying that’s a totally separate issue.
“It’s a whole new piece to the health care insurance so unfortunately they keep putting that out there that we’re taking (health care) without knowing the cost, but we can sort of predict what that’s going to be,” Thomas said. “We have no way to predict those (surcharge) costs.”
Thomas said if the county takes the surcharge off the contract, there would be no strike.
“This is a whole new proposal, a whole new thing that they’re bringing on that they don’t have information on,” Thomas said. “How can our membership make that decision without knowing the cost? It just doesn’t make sense.
“What if the cost is catastrophic?” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the workers said, the public is suffering.
“We’re getting approached on the picket line from our clients and we’re answering a lot of questions and trying to help them,” Thomas said. “Citizens are losing those services and (the county) continues to say all is going well. Impossible.”
Lorain County Administrator James Cordes said Tuesday the agency is operating on a delay, but the work is being done.
Kelly Fields, co-chair of the bargaining committee, doesn’t see how that could be true.
“Our bilingual community — there are over 2,000 bilingual cases — and only one supervisor in there right now speaks Spanish. How is that population being serviced?” Fields said. “Those are the kinds of things that (the commissioners) are telling people.”
Fields said when the workers do eventually get back in, it will take months to catch up on work.
“I don’t see how this is cost effective for the community or county or the clients who need services,” Thomas said. “We’re on the right side of this thing. The workers are strong. They’re not caving. We’re a very tough group.”
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