WARREN CSEA workers go on strike after talks fail

This strike should not affect mailing of child support checks.
WARREN -- Union employees at the Trumbull County Child Support Enforcement Agency took up picket lines today, after weekend talks with the county failed to produce a tentative agreement.
"This is the only way to get our point across," said Shannon Harris, an enforcement investigator with the agency, standing with a sign and umbrella in the early morning rain.
James Keating, director of the county's department of human resources, said that bargaining with the union has been "futile" since the county commissioners rejected a fact-finding report 10 days ago.
Major issues: The major issues standing in the way of an agreement continue to be the county's desire to eliminate paid lunch for employees and to have employees start paying for part of their health care plan. Health care was raised late in negotiations, after the fact finder was called in, when the county received estimates that its health insurance bill could jump by 30 percent.
"In our view, that was a deceitful tactic in negotiations," said Mark Carlson, staff representative of American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees local 3808.
In negotiations Sunday, the county pushed for CSEA employees to begin paying 10 percent of the cost for health care, about $120 per month. Keating said the county offered language that would delay billing employees for health care or taking away their paid lunch break until one other county union agreed to the same terms.
"We spent the entire day giving them offers and we did not receive a single offer back," Keating said. "We basically told them that we did not have the money to fund the current insurance program, and they basically told us to raise taxes."
Layoffs: CSEA recently laid off 12 of the agency's 67 workers and planned to furlough three managers as a result of a $500,000 reduction in funding from the state. The county auditor forecasts that this year the agency will spend $2 million more than it collected from the state and county. In recent years, the county has contributed $150,000 to the agency's $4.6 million annual budget.
Direct pay has not been a major issue in negotiations. The union settled on a 3.5 percent pay increase for the first year of a new contract in May, before the three-year contract expired Aug. 1, and has been willing to accept a pay freeze in years two and three.
Making employees pay, however, for their health insurance; and increasing the number of hours they are required to work from 61/2 to 71/2; is the equivalent of a pay cut union members will not accept, Carlson said.
Wages: Wages at CSEA range from $9.19 an hour for a receptionist with no seniority to $14.78 an hour for a caseworker with 10 years.
Because child support checks are mailed directly from Columbus, they will continue to be sent despite the strike. The local office is responsible for setting up new cases, establishing paternity and fixing checks that were sent out in the wrong amount.
Keating said that this work would be performed by 13 management employees for the duration of the strike.