PARTA, union reach agreement

Stacey Carmany

OAPSE will vote on contract tomorrow; deal would end nearly three-month strike

Negotiators for the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority and its drivers’ union agreed to a contract proposal yesterday that would end the strike that has been going on for nearly three months.

PARTA said the return to work date is still being worked out, but Trina Molnar, field representative for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 037, said it could be as early as Monday.

“I’m happy for my members,” Molnar said.

Molnar said the contract does not include a fair share provision but does include a signing bonus for all the drivers and enhanced insurance for part-time drivers.

“I consider that a win,” she said. “It’s a win for those people who tried so hard.”

In a statement for PARTA, marketing director Frank Hairston said the agreement includes “enhancements for all employees.” The enhancements would include pay raises and a $400 lump sum ramification payment. The agreement would also provide health insurance and paid time off for part-time drivers.

“PARTA believes the tentative agreement is fair and reasonable to both PARTA and the approximately 65 employees covered by the agreement,” Hairston said

The union will vote on the proposed contract Wednesday morning.

Union president Gene Cozart said he expects the members will approve the contract.

On Aug. 15, OAPSE Local 037 filed a notice of its intent to strike and picket beginning Aug. 25.

OAPSE Local 037 has been negotiating with PARTA for an initial contract since July 2006. Negotiations reached a standstill over fair share, a provision which would have required non-union drivers to pay fees to the union.

On Aug. 21, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against PARTA with the State Employment Relations Board.

Molnar said the union has agreed to drop the charge, which was scheduled for hearing Dec. 17.

The parties met last Wednesday evening for a session that lasted until 3 a.m. Thursday. They discussed various contract provisions but did not reach a formal agreement.

There were no picketers outside PARTA’s headquarters on Summit Street Monday. Just last week, drivers who had spent years carrying out PARTA’s mission of “moving the people who need it most,” walked the picket line, branding signs reading “On Strike” and “Support OAPSE Local 037.” There were no shouts of “Scab” or honks from passing drivers. The entrance, which had been teeming with sign-toting drivers and supporters for nearly three months, was quiet. The only remnant of the strike was a tiny shack that provided the drivers with shelter from the cold.

Cozart confirmed that the strike is over. He said he told the drivers not to come to the picket line this week.

The shack should be removed by next week, he said.

Contact transportation reporter Stacey Carmany at [email protected].