Friday, January 17, 2003
The county accepted a fact finder's report, but the Teamsters union rejected it.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Workers at the Mahoning County Engineer's Office might soon park their snowplows and pick up picket signs.
Teamsters Local 377 has issued notice of its intent to strike at 7 a.m. Jan. 27 unless a contract agreement is reached. The union represents 79 laborers, truck drivers, mechanics and heavy equipment operators.
Marilyn Kenner, chief deputy engineer, said she is optimistic that a settlement will be reached before the strike deadline.
"There should be no reason why we can't come to an amicable agreement," Kenner said.
Robert Bernat, Teamsters business agent, agreed that "the issues are not unsurpassable," but he said talks broke off Friday and none are scheduled.
The union's last contract expired April 31, 2002, Kenner said. By mutual agreement, it was extended while contract talks continued.
The matter was placed in the hands of a fact finder late last year. When the fact finder's report was issued in December, the county voted to accept it, but the union rejected it. The sides have been unable to agree since then.
Bernat said the primary issue for the union is a shortage of truck drivers.
There are eight full-time drivers assigned to work out of the main garage on Industrial Road, on the city's West Side. Bernat said the union doesn't think that's enough and wants two more positions posted and filled. The county, though, has rejected that idea, arguing there are enough drivers.
Bernat said staffing at the department has been reduced significantly since Engineer Richard Marsico took office. That, coupled with a growth in residential housing on roads that once were sparsely populated, makes it nearly impossible for drivers to keep up with plowing, he said.
"When it comes time for snow and ice removal, we feel they are short-handed on a regular basis," Bernat said.
He said the union also believes there should be three other positions posted and filled within the department, but the county has resisted. All could be filled with current personnel, Bernat said.
The fact finder, Atty. Christopher E. Miles, took the county's side in the issue.
"The record reveals that the county has been able to function adequately ... with its current staffing level," the report says.
Other issues on the table deal with job bidding, deciding which side pays the cost of arbitration and the union's request for a wage reopener in the third year of the contract.
Kenner said wages were agreed upon last year, so the county does not want to accept the reopener.
She said the average wage is $16.26 for laborers, $16.76 for truck drivers and $17.59 for heavy equipment operators.