By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
In the first organized strike of state employees in Ohio history, more than 2,000 workers took yesterday off.
Service Employees International Union District 1199 officials called the one-day strike to protest what they consider the state’s attempt to reduce their salaries. Union members are working without a contract, and state negotiators have proposed lowering the rate at which salaries increase with experience.
“It is ludicrous that they want to cut our pay when the state has a $900 million budget surplus,” said David Regan, the union’s president.
At daybreak, picketers gathered at 11 prisons across the state, including three in Lima – the Allen, Lima, and Oakwood Correctional Institutions.
In Toledo, officials said most state offices absorbed the loss of manpower without much difficulty. At least five offices at One Government Center were affected by the strike, but none reported an inability to provide services.
At the Toledo office of the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation, for example, only 12 of the 92 employees are members of District 1199, 10 of whom went on strike. According to spokesman Jim Samuel, their jobs – as nurses and rehabilitation specialists – were done mostly by supervisors and coworkers.
Some work was pushed back to today, when the employees return to work, he said.
The union represents 4,500 state employees in a wide range of fields, from doctors to parole officers, chaplains to nursing home inspectors. Of those, about 500 are in the Toledo area, union spokesman Pat Glynn said.
In Toledo’s adult parole authority offices, 20 of 22 unionized parole officers walked out, leaving supervisors to check on the city’s felons, said Joe Andrews, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
“We are continuing to provide services to anyone who needs them,” he said. “There’s nobody left out.”
Management and union officials gave different estimates on the turnout for the strike. Stephen Gulyassy, head of the state’s collective bargaining office, said only about 50 per cent of union members stayed home. Mr. Regan called that “completely inaccurate” and said about three-quarters of workers honored the strike.
The union held a noon rally at the state capitol in Columbus, which Mr. Regan said attracted almost 1,500 workers and supporters. Mr. Gulyassy put the number at only “a few hundred.”
The Associated Press estimated the number at 800 to 1,000.
Mr. Gulyassy said the state wants to reduce the bonus pay received by veteran state employees.
For example, a parole worker with 20 years of experience receives a 20 per cent annual bonus to account for his or her seniority. For other state employees, he said, that number is 10 per cent.
Mr. Regan said the union would be happy with the same contract they’ve had the last three years.
The strike was the beginning of an unusual labor tactic. Union officials said that, until they get a contract, they will call one-day strikes once every two weeks.
Mr. Gulyassy said he believes the move was a poor decision. “With only one day out, the most you can say is it’s inconvenient,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a very good tactic.”
Union officials disagreed, saying it maximizes the effects of a strike while minimizing the cost to the rank and file.
“It’s a nontraditional, strategic method of striking. It’s designed to get the most bang for our buck on any given day,” Mr. Glynn said.
No further negotiations are scheduled.