8/28/08

Bus drivers still on strike in Ohio

Related story: "Bus drivers cross picket lines"

Drivers cross picket line, strikers unable to shut down employer

As a strike by its drivers continued Wednesday, the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority exchanged words with its union. The bus system has operated on a basic-service level since the strike began Monday, said spokesman Frank Hairston. He said the transit system is not ''as flexible as we have been, but we are providing the transportation to the people who need it most in the county.''

Hairston said service is being affected not only by the striking drivers, who number between 55 and 65, but also by such factors as fuel costs and insurance rates.

But Hairston said buses ran on time Tuesday in Portage County.

The transit system has operated its buses with nonunion workers, including managers, drivers who crossed the picket line and student drivers.

PARTA buses serve about 5,700 Kent State University passengers and about 2,000 other riders each day.

An official with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 037 had another take on the level of service.

While some buses have hit the road, Trina Molnar, an OAPSE field representative, said it is far from normal service.

PARTA General Manager John Drew said in a news release Wednesday that ''PARTA will continue to provide transportation to citizens of Portage County, whether or not the drivers decided to stay on strike.''

One of the key issues in the strike is something called ''fair share,'' which is a demand by OAPSE that drivers who choose not to be represented by the union pay a fee to the union.

Drew said PARTA opposes any contractual provision that would require employees who chose not to join the union to pay a fee.

Molnar said fair share amounts to about 2 percent of a worker's gross pay. She said that the union has in effect represented workers who have not joined the union from the beginning of negotiations and those workers ''never had to pay a penny.''

She said the transit system doesn't want a union shop.

Negotiations for the first contract for drivers began two years ago. An impasse was declared a year ago.

PARTA said that before the strike, it had offered drivers about $30,000 in economic incentives in the form of a $600 lump sum ratification payment to full-time drivers and $300 to part-time drivers.

Molnar said the union believes PARTA has spent $200,000 of taxpayer money fighting the union. Hairston countered that only $60,000 has been spent since 2006 on costs associated with contract talks.

(ohio.com)

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