PARTA union drivers may earn benefits at unemployment hearing

Stacey Carmany

Union claims PARTA ‘locked out’ its drivers

An unemployment hearing for 30 county bus drivers will be held today at the Oliver R. Ocasek building in Akron. The drivers are members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 037. The union’s strike against the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority is in its fifth week.

The drivers will be eligible for unemployment benefits only if the hearing officer finds merit to the claim made by the union that PARTA “locked out” the drivers. The drivers will not be eligible for benefits if the hearing officer agrees with PARTA’s claim that they are engaged in a voluntary strike.

“We don’t know why the union would claim it’s a lockout,” said PARTA attorney Thomas Evan Green, of Kastner, Westman & Wilkins, LLC.

Under Ohio law, “No public employee is entitled to pay or compensation from the public employer for the period engaged in any strike.”

In its unfair labor practice charge filed with the State Employment Relations Board, OAPSE Local 037 claims the strike is a direct result of PARTA’s efforts to “lock out or otherwise prevent employees from performing their regularly assigned duties.”

According to “Public Employee Collective Bargaining in Ohio: Unfair Labor Practices,” a brochure published by the State Employment Relations Board, this tactic is prohibited by law “when its purpose is to bring pressure to settle a labor dispute in favor of the employer’s terms.”

OAPSE Local 037 claims drivers were forced to strike because, when mediation failed, PARTA “threatened to implement terms and conditions of employment, but could not identify which terms and conditions and refused to make a last, best and final offer.”

“Terms and conditions of employment” refers to the wages, vacation time, work hours and grievance procedures offered by a company to its employees, said OAPSE attorney Thomas C. Drabick Jr.

“The union didn’t have any choice but to file a strike notice,” Drabick said.

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

PARTA disagrees with the union’s assertion that the drivers have been “locked out.”

“To this day, PARTA continues to offer work to the OAPSE-represented drivers at the same wages, benefits and terms of employment that the drivers enjoyed before the strike,” Frank Hairston, director of marketing for PARTA, said in a written statement. “In fact, approximately 20 OAPSE-represented drivers who have chosen not to strike have crossed the picket line and worked.”

Green said the hearing officer will not make a decision today.

“They make that decision fairly quickly, usually within a few weeks,” he said.

The unfair labor practice charge filed by the union against PARTA is still in the initial investigation stage.

Contact transportation reporter Stacey Carmany at [email protected].