Mathews strike called off

By Jordan Cohen


A strike by 30 nonteaching employees of the Mathews Local School District scheduled to begin this morning was called off after their union withdrew its strike notice.

“I think we’re a lot closer than we were, but we still have issues to resolve,” said Ron Blatt, field representative of Ohio Association of Public Employees Local 611, which represents the district’s bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance employees.

Blatt said the strike notice was withdrawn after both sides met with a federal mediator Tuesday. He said the two sides would meet again next Tuesday.

The strike notice was issued earlier this month after the union rejected what Superintendent Lewis Lowery called “the last, best and final offer.” The school board had offered a three-year contract with no pay raises the first two years and 0.5 percent in the final year. The local was demanding 2 percent increases each year of a two-year contract; however, Blatt indicated that wages would not be the deciding issue.

“We’re not going to hold out on wages because we know what’s happening to [funding for] public education,” he said. “We want to do our part to help, but we think any sacrifice should be shared sacrifice.”

The board also wants to increase union members’ contributions to monthly health-care premiums to 10 percent from the current 5 percent.

Blatt declined to discuss what the union would find acceptable. He said one major issue involves “short-hour employees,” meaning union members who work only a few hours per day.

“We’re worried about language that would take away work from them,” Blatt said. “We want our people to be able to move up and fill positions whenever someone is absent.”

District Treasurer Brian Stidham said the board has not changed its final offer that the union previously rejected. “That offer still stands, but we’ll listen to what they have to say,” Stidham said.

Stidham and Blatt said next Tuesday’s negotiations will be conducted without the mediator, who apparently is unavailable that evening.

“I think we have a better understanding of them, and they have a better understanding of us,” Blatt said. “We’ll try to settle this and put it behind us.”

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