Community support for public workers

JEFFERSON, Ohio – A community rally of 300 people was held here Dec. 1 to support public workers on strike in Ashtabula County. Jefferson is the county seat and a main center of strike activity by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 14 and Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) Local 419.

Led by the Ashtabula AFL-CIO, an impressive list of community and labor leaders called for “quick resolution” of the negotiations and “support for the public workers walking picket lines.” State leaders of both striking unions and the Ohio AFL-CIO spoke in support of the workers on the picket lines.

“We respected the county commissioners whom we helped elect,” said Local 14 President Martha Larson, “and they have betrayed us, showing no concern for us as their employees nor for the people whom we service.”

Local 14 represents 125 employees of Ashtabula County Jobs and Family Services, who administer all social welfare programs in the county, including child support, food stamps, job assistance, unemployment insurance, welfare checks, disabled assistance and more.

Many of these workers are so badly paid they themselves live below the poverty level and qualify for the very assistance programs they administer.

Already heavily overburdened by increased caseloads and reduced staff, county and city officials are now going after their wages and benefits.

Drastic cutbacks in funding for public education, coupled with siphoning off millions of dollars for school privatization schemes, has put many public school systems into a crisis situation.

OAPSE representative Joe Eck said he wanted it clearly understood that the “school board is demanding nine contract changes” that would reduce benefits and income for his members. Eck said that despite the employees’ dedication to their jobs and concern for the education of the children they teach, the board is demanding “massive concessions” in their contract.

Parents expressed outrage over the disruption of their children’s education and impossible burdens placed on family life and demanded that the school board grant the workers a fair contract immediately and get them back in the schools.

A large majority of these workers are women, many single mothers, and many feel that, without the benefits, the wages won’t be enough to provide for their families.