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SOUTHINGTON Leaders to board: Return to talks

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The workers hit the picket line nearly five months ago. Nine remain.
SOUTHINGTON -- Local politicians and labor leaders are urging the school board to go back to the bargaining table with members of its service workers union.
Ohio Association of Public School Employees 673, which included bus drivers, clerical workers and custodians, has been on the picket line since Aug. 25 after the school board imposed a contract. Imposition came after negotiations between the two sides failed to reach an agreement.
Nine members of the 15-member union remain on the line, gathering around burn barrels and ducking into a makeshift shelter to get out of the cold.
Other union members returned to work.
'It's about pride'
"This dispute has very little to do with money," said state Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd, at a news conference Friday at the picket line. "It's about pride. The school board has a duty to come to the table."
Trumbull County Commissioners Joe Angelo and Dan Polivka and leaders of several area labor unions reiterated Dann's comments.
"This is one of the longest strikes in Trumbull County history and now is the time to sit down and talk," Angelo said.
Don Arbogast, shop chairman of International Union of Electrical Workers Local 717 and a Southington resident, said the dispute has disintegrated into a personal feud between the parties.
It's dividing the community, labor leaders said.
School board member Jerry Kovar, contacted after the news conference, said the board is keeping firm.
"We have implemented a contract," he said. "There's not going to be any negotiations."
He said his understanding of the law is that if the board negotiates after a contract is implemented, that contract is null and void.
Union members were without a contract for two years and negotiations went on until the contract implementation, Kovar said.
"How long are you supposed to bargain with someone?" he said.
Wendy Tietz, union president, said a rally was scheduled as a pick-me-up for those on the line.
"We want to show that the other labor unions are behind us. It's not just the nine of us out here," she said.
No talks scheduled
No talks have been scheduled since the contract implementation. A few weeks ago, the union sent a letter to board members saying they would accept the contract if the board gave them each $1,200 to make up for time they've spent without a raise.
"There's been no movement -- none at all," Tietz said.
But Kovar said that offer, which also was distributed to people outside of the school board, also wanted the school board to agree not to contest an October ruling by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that ruled the strike a lockout.
That ruling meant that union members are eligible for unemployment.
Dann said the amount of money spent on lawyers exceeds the money that initially sparked the dispute.
Kovar argued that the appeal of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services ruling was the only time the board initiated spending money for legal fees.
"We've only spent legal fees in defense of ourselves," Kovar said. "We're not bargaining. They can either come back to work or they can stay where they are."