Saturday, October 11, 2003

County workers threaten strike

Family services employees give 10-day notice

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hourly workers for Hamilton County's largest department are threatening to go on strike.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave the county a 10-day strike notice Wednesday. The union represents 915 clerical, public assistance, child support and children's services workers - nearly a third of the 1,500 employees at Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

The main disputes are over wages and whether all eligible employees should be required to pay union dues, according to A.B. James, president of the AFSCME Local 1768 and a public-assistance worker.

Negotiations on the contract, which expired in May, have stalled, said both James and Laurie Petrie, the department's spokeswoman.

"We're willing to stay here and do our jobs, but they're not working with us," James said.

County Administrator David Krings disputed that assessment Friday afternoon.

"I think we're real close to a tentative agreement, which may come any time now," Krings said. "There have been discussions; there have been contacts."

Neither side would say what specifically the union wants or the county has offered.

But this county's Job and Family Services employees make less money than other counties' JFS workers, James said. They also comprise a higher percentage of minorities and single women than any of Hamilton County's other departments, she said.

The union has 362 dues-paying members. About 60 percent of those who voted were in favor of proceeding with a strike, James said, and AFSCME has a final vote scheduled for Oct. 17.

Krings wasn't sure when county workers last staged a strike, but said there hasn't been one in his nearly 12 years as administrator. "And I don't anticipate there'll be one this time," he said.

Even if there is, clients needn't worry, Petrie said.

"We will be open for business if they strike," she said.


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