Bus drivers still on strike for forced dues

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The strike between union bus drivers and the Portage Area (OH) Regional Transportation Authority is entering its fourth week with no conclusion in sight. The union representing the striking drivers recently started making direct appeals to county residents. Automated telephone calls asked residents to contact PARTA and ask them to give the drivers a contract.

PARTA spokesman Frank Hairston said the bus service had gotten about three dozen calls as a result. While the union was asking for support, about a third of the calls were in support of PARTA, Hairston said.

At PARTA's Summit Road entrance, picketers walked the line this week with passing motorists honking in support.

"The public response has been amazing," said Trina Molnar, field representative for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees.

"Money, food, cases of water -- people are bringing us hot meals. The people who live in this area have been so kind to the people on the picket line. It's so incredible and so appreciated," Molnar said.

In the latest move, OAPSE Local 037 is contending that PARTA has locked out the striking drivers. The union claims some 65 drivers as members.

Hairston said 20 drivers (15 part- and 5 full-time) are crossing the picket line to work on a regular basis. PARTA has about 212 employees.

"We're providing the transportation that's needed here in Portage County," Hairston said.

Molnar said a determination hearing is set for Sept. 22 by the State Employee Relations Board. If SERB finds in favor of the union, then unemployment benefits will be paid to striking workers, Molnar said.

As of Sept. 1, striking workers lost their PARTA benefits, including health coverage.

An unfair labor practice charge by the union against PARTA is still pending. If SERB finds in favor of the union, then PARTA will have to pay wages to striking drivers, Molnar said.

An earlier charge by PARTA against OAPSE was dismissed this summer.
PARTA and OAPSE are split over the issue of "fair share," which requires nonunion drivers to pay a percentage of their gross pay, estimated by the union at 2 percent, to the union as an "administrative fee."

PARTA carries some 7,700 riders daily, with about 5,700 coming from bus service on the Kent State University campus.


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