Talks were on this morning. Both sides say progress has been made.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN -- All county employees will soon be asked to accept the same cut in benefits which caused Trumbull County Child Support Enforcement workers to go on strike, officials say.
As labor contracts expire, members of the seven other unions which participate in the county's health insurance plan also will be asked to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums, said Commissioner Michael J. O'Brien.
Management employees and the commissioners themselves also will begin paying for their own health insurance, O'Brien said Thursday. Currently, no county employees pay for health insurance.
"As soon as we get a new plan, the commissioners will be on there with them," said Commissioner Joseph J. Angelo. "We are bargaining against ourselves."
Discussions: The county and CSEA met for about four hours Thursday. Both sides said they're optimistic an end is near.
Talks resumed at 9 a.m. today."At least the commissioners are listening to what we have to say instead of saying no to everything," said Mark Carlson, a staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing the pickets.
He characterized the status as "a great deal of progress."
Jim Keating, the county's human resources director, said this morning that negotiations with a state mediator would last until at least 1:30 p.m. today.
He was cautiously optimistic an agreement will be reached soon, especially with the holidays approaching.
Cost increases: Last year, the county paid $5.5 million for health care, a figure that is expected to jump 30 percent this year, Keating said, explaining the county plans to solicit bids for new, partially employee-funded plans in April.
During the course of negotiations, CSEA employees have been asked to take on 10 percent of the cost of their insurance plan. No agreement has been made.
Many employees, members of AFSCME Local 3808, and their supporters packed the county commissioner's regular meeting Thursday to urge a quick end to the 4-week-old strike.
"How many of you can survive without a paycheck for four weeks?" asked Harold Nichols, special projects coordinator for IUE/CWA-Delphi Packard Electric Systems.
He also argued that the commissioners were acting unfairly by asking the union to accept the paid health insurance proposal late in negotiations, months after both sides had signed paperwork putting the issue to rest. Health insurance was resurrected when the county rejected a fact-finder's report.
"It is not an issue of whether you guys are going to pay it," Nichols said. "The issue is that you guys agreed."
Charges: Members of the audience at the commissioners meeting made a number of charges against the commissioners, including calling the pickets names, bargaining in bad faith and picking on CSEA employees because they are primarily women.
O'Brien called the accusations ridiculous.
Carlson said the county negotiating team's final word to CSEA employees at the end of a bargaining session Tuesday was, "When you decide to accept the fact that you will pay, you can call us."
"Gentlemen," Carlson told the commissioners Thursday, "When hell freezes over, that is how close we are."