ELYRIA — After members of United Auto Workers Local 2192 and their supporters packed the county commissioners meeting Wednesday as the Lorain County Jobs and Family Services strike continues, the board said the union is trying to spread “misinformation.”
At the meeting, co-chair of the union’s bargaining committee Kelly Fields said while the county has indicated there hasn’t been an interruption in services during the strike, she doesn’t believe that’s true.
“You have said everything is being taken care of,” she said. “Either someone is lying from the inside or you are not being truthful with the public. You continue to keep us from coming to a conclusion and getting back to work.”
About 170 workers have been on strike since 12:01 a.m. Sept. 25 after talks broke down over the issue of spousal health care coverage.
Commissioners had sought 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 base 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 commissioners released a statement later in the day responding to the union’s claim that it went on strike over the surcharge issue.
“It is extremely unfortunate that Local 2192 never conveyed the removal of the surcharge language as an actual proposal before they chose to strike,” the statement said. “The commissioners are completely willing to remove this surcharge option, have actually done so and have had their representative sign the modified proposal and send it to the UAW International Representative for execution. We eagerly await the return of the signed settlement on this matter and the return to work of the Local 2192 bargaining unit members.”
Care of clients
At Wednesday’s meeting Fields stated several statistics, including that before the strike, 300 to 500 people come through the office daily and are waited on by five desk workers with an average wait time of 10 minutes and that 700 to 800 calls are made daily to the 10-person call center.
“You have a message that we are on strike and to expect delays but changed the (phone) number without telling the public,” she said. “How is that fulfilling needs? Who is meeting the clients’ needs this month? These are only a snapshot of the services and because of the time limit I don’t have time to talk about other items.”
The commissioners sent out a statement later Wednesday addressing Fields’ comments on the number of people served by JFS during the strike.
The statement said during the week of Oct. 2, the JFS front lobby served 900 clients. While it was unclear why there was a lag in the number in clients that week, it “allowed the supervisors and administrators working the front desk to work on processing some of the applications that the agency received.”
The wait times during the week were 50-75 minutes, the statement said.
The commissioners also released a statement about the number of clients received Tuesday.
“The JFS lobby experienced 799 clientele coming through, not only to be seen and have cases managed but dropping off verifications and other necessary documents,” the statement said. “This volume of clientele was greater than anticipated for the day after Columbus Day. Key staff worked the lobby offering receipts so that clients dropping off verifications and documents did not have to wait to be seen at the windows.”
According to the statement, 231 clients were served at the lobby windows, and “by the evening hours the number of clientele had dwindled down to zero.”
Dispute over effort
Retired UAW official Jerry Donovan asked the commissioners at the meeting if they had asked the union to return to negotiations.
“Last week it was stated that the union had extended an invitation to the commissioners to return to the bargaining table,” he said. “It was also pointed out that it’s a two-way street. My question is: Have you made any effort to extend a similar invitation to the union?”
Commissioner Lori Kokoski told Donovan the public comment period was not designed for asking questions of the board per a resolution passed earlier this year that more clearly defined the rules.
“I understand that it’s a protective mechanism you use to not have to answer questions,” he responded. “I think it’s an undemocratic situation, but knowing you and knowing this board I don’t expect anything less.”
The commissioners released a third statement Wednesday to address Donovan’s comments, saying “it was apparent by this question that Local 2192 continues in its efforts to spread misinformation and ‘raise questions’ to garner public support.”
“Patrick Spayde, International Representative for the UAW, and Chief Spokesperson for Local 2192, was in the audience (at the commissioners meeting),” the statement said. “Mr. Spayde was clearly aware that there had been discussions about ‘getting back to the table,’ as he had spoken with the chief spokesperson for the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services (Agency) about the matter the day before.
“During that discussion between the spokespersons, Mr. Spayde conveyed his opinion that any meeting would need to be ‘productive’ and that he would be talking with his local bargaining committee and then get back to the Agency’s spokesperson. Maybe Mr. Donavan didn’t know this or maybe he did and chose nonetheless to raise the issue to again attempt to unjustly discredit the commissioners. What is clear however is that Mr. Spayde sat silently alongside the bargaining committee all the while knowing what had actually transpired between the parties.”
Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KatieHNix.