PARTA discusses lockout with union

Stacey Carmany

Definition of strike affects whether workers collect unemployment

Attorneys for the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 037 answered questions and called upon witnesses to testify at an unemployment hearing for 31 county bus drivers Monday. The hearing officer collected evidence and listened to testimony from both sides in order to help him reach a determination as to whether the “work stoppage” is a voluntary strike or a lockout.

The drivers are members of the OAPSE Local 037. OAPSE Local 037 has been negotiating with PARTA on an initial contract since July 2006. The parties have been at odds over a contractual provision which would require non-union drivers to pay fees to the union. On Aug. 15 the union filed a notice of its intent to strike and picket beginning Aug. 25.

OAPSE contends PARTA has “locked out” the drivers, or acted in a way which prevented them from performing their regularly assigned duties. PARTA’s position is that the drivers are engaged in a “voluntary strike.” Under Ohio law, state employees are ineligible for unemployment benefits or compensation for any period of time they are engaged in a strike.

PARTA attorney Thomas Evan Green called upon Human Resources Director Claudia B. Amrhein to testify on behalf of the transit authority.

Amrhein said that the drivers have not been locked out. She said PARTA has offered employment to 26 drivers who have chosen not to strike. Three of those drivers crossed the picket line. The other 23 never participated in the strike.

Amrhein said drivers are working under the same terms and conditions that they enjoyed prior to the “work stoppage.”

She said that PARTA has not denied any requests from drivers to return to work.

In addition to the drivers who have chosen to work, Amrhein said that PARTA has contracted drivers from A&M Transit but emphasized that they are not permanent replacements for the union drivers.

OAPSE attorney Kristen McKinley called upon Trina Molnar, field representative for OAPSE Local 037, to testify on behalf of the union.

According to Molnar, some drivers “were informed that, in order to work, they had to withdraw from the union.”

McKinley submitted as evidence written statements from two drivers stating that they were asked to resign from the union before they could return to work.

Green objected that the evidence was “hearsay” because the drivers were not at the hearing to confirm the statements.

“Hearsay” evidence can be accepted as evidence during an unemployment hearing, but objections are noted.

The hearing officer will review the evidence and testimonies and will make his determination within ten days. The drivers will be notified via mail.

Contact transportation reporter Stacey Carmany at [email protected]