Opinion: Stand with our social service administrators


Matthew Olienechak

Matthew Olienechak

Imagine having to live on the same salary for 10 years or more. Imagine that even as the cost of living rose, you were shackled to that static number, your budget becoming more stressed with every passing year.

Unfortunately for the staff members of the Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, they don’t have to imagine. That’s just the reality that they live in.

Currently, social service administrators start with a base salary that will increase every year at reduced percentages for a period of 14 years. After that, their income is frozen. For long-standing employees, that means that they might not have seen a pay increase in over 10 years.

Their union decided to ask the Portage County Board of Commissioners for a department-wide pay increase to help remedy that. They didn’t ask for much, just over a $1,000 annually for each staffer. Despite a $3 million surplus in their budget, the board declined to come to the table.

So, the SSAs decided they had no choice but to strike.

Now, the board hires private security and attorneys, costing themselves far more than they would have spent if they had just negotiated a contract.

This is just another example of how our society looks down on the working class. These men and women perform an incredibly important service, helping those with developmental disabilities stay safe and get the most out of their lives.

Many of their clients do not have the family or friends needed for a support network. Without the SSAs, they would be all alone to fend for themselves.

And yet, despite all they do, they cannot be afforded the most basic of pay increases to help deal with this increasingly expensive world. There are those who call them greedy and selfish only because they desire financial security.

Meanwhile, the board members do little else but deny their requests. Most are retired, having the money to live comfortably without needing to work.

As we are all members of the working class, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with the SSAs and their cause. They need our help, just as we or a loved one might someday need theirs.

Michelle Sahr, a member of the board, owns several businesses right here in Kent.

Off the Wagon. The Cheesemonger. Red Letter Days. Boycott them.

We can deny her business, just as she denies her employees a comfortable wage.

Go to their page on Facebook, “Support our Portage SSAs,” and sign a petition to the board. Let them know that their staff members have support from their community. And, if you’re up for it, you join their picket line at 2606 Brady Lake Road. They’ll be there Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Bring warm food or drink, if you can.

Alone, we may not be able to accomplish much in this world. But if we stand together, in solidarity, we can change things for the better. Shoulder to shoulder, we can show the board that they’re not allowed to impose hardship upon those who do so much more good in the world than themselves.

Together, we can show the SSAs they are not fighting alone.

Matthew Olienechak is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].