SEIU strikers stage Social Services walk-out

Workers at the Erie County (PA) Office of Children and Youth were expected to continue picketing Monday after declaring an impasse in contract negotiations. About 100 union workers went on strike Friday, after negotiations on a new contract broke down.

The last contract expired on Dec. 31. Workers had remained on the job, despite voting to approve a strike last month after the county offered a four-year contract with 3 percent raises in each of the first three years and a 3.2 percent raise in the final year.

Gene Walczak, one of about 100 members of Pennsylvania Social Services Union Local 668, said the county has spent too much time studying the pay issue. "Why don't they save the taxpayers' money and spend 50 cents to call (neighboring) Crawford County and ask what their pay is," Walczak said. "We're tired," said Betti-Jo Gilbert, another striking worker. "We are underpaid and overworked."

The strikers wore purple shirts and carried signs reading, "Ask abused children what I'm worth to them." The workers said their jobs have become more difficult since the May 2004 death of Brittany Legler, a disabled 15-year-old girl who was beaten by her adoptive mother. A new CYS director and new policies have resulted in larger caseloads for CYS workers, Walczak said.

Common Pleas Judge John Bozza on Friday issued an injunction keeping about 40 intake workers and staff at the county's Edmund L. Thomas Juvenile Detention Center on the job through the weekend. It was not immediately clear what might happen to those workers on Monday.

"It was essential that we maintain the status quo," county attorney Charles Agresti told the Erie Times-News. "There are 1,600 kids in the system right now. These caseworkers have developed relationships with those children. An interruption in that service would have been detrimental to the children."

Agresti did not immediately return a call to his cell phone on Sunday. His wife said he was out of town for the day.


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