Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Sides work to avoid strike

County, family services workers stuck on pay issues

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County and some of its workers began preparing Monday for a possible strike, at the same time saying they hope it doesn't happen.

The county appointed a manager to coordinate continuation of services in case Job and Family Services employees strike Monday. Department caseworkers and clerks rejected the county's latest contract offer 132 to 88 on Friday, according to Local 1768 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The union represents almost 1,000 of the department's 1,500 employees.

"We will continue to provide mandated services such as child protection and delivery of benefits, including cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid," county Administrator David Krings said. "Some lower-priority services may have to wait a bit, but the essential services will continue."

Job and Family Services couldn't say Monday what those lower-priority services might be, saying much will depend on how many employees honor the picket line.

The department is going to have to wait until next week to get the answer to that question, union President A.B. James said in an e-mail to workers. Some managers are asking their employees if they're going to strike, she said in the e-mail, but that's an unfair labor practice and workers should not answer them.

Pay is the main sticking point. After rejecting the recommendations of an outside fact-finder, the county offered a guaranteed minimum 2 percent pay raise in 2004 and 2005.

"Our medical (insurance) is going up 10 percent next year - that's guaranteed," James said.

Also, the raise would not be applied across-the-board; under the county's pay plan, departments give out raises ranging from zero to 20 percent - averaging out to the overall rate - based on performance.

Both sides said they continue to work toward a settlement.

"We're accepting on faith that the right people are talking to each other," Commissioner John Dowlin said. "I'm sure it will work out."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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