Non-striking social workers allegedly warned against picketing

Members of the Butler County Children Services Independent Union say their non-striking co-workers have allegedly been told if they join their peers on the picket line during their off-time as a show of support, they also would be considered as “on strike.”

Social workers, who walked the picket line in front of the Children Services office on Fair Avenue for a second day, were angered by the apparent directive from the agency’s management. Union Chief Becky Palmer said she asked union members who are continuing to work during the labor dispute to support their striking co-workers before and after work by coming to the picket line. But Children Services management has apparently nixed the idea.

“They have been pulled in individually and told that if they come out, clock out and picket, or if they, at the end of the day, come out and picket, they will not be allowed to come back to work,” Palmer said.

County Administrator Charlie Young said he hadn’t been able to find out if in fact workers were told that. He said county officials were also checking to see if it is permissible under Ohio labor law, if in fact such a directive was actually given.

Young is the only official speaking to the news media on behalf of the county about the labor dispute.

Children Services union members went on strike Monday after failing to reach an agreement on a new three-year contract with the county. Disgruntled social workers want higher wage increases than the county is willing to give. The negotiations reached a final impasse on Sunday following a failed last-ditch session with a federal mediator.

The strike is believed to be the first among Butler County government workers since the state began recognizing public employee unions in the 1980s.

Palmer said no workers have been forced to go on strike to her knowledge, because they have now been warned. The union’s attorney Jessup Gage said if management has done that, it is illegal.
“If those allegations are accurate, I think that would be an illegal infringement on their First Amendment right to free speech,” he said. “It’s unclear if these employees would be locked out if they used their personal time to speak up in support of their fellow union members, but if so, that would also be illegal because I don’t believe lockout is permitted in public sector bargaining.”

With temperature hovering around 90 degrees on Tuesday the social workers have decided to take shifts walking the picket line both at the Children Services offices on Fair Avenue and in front of the Government Services Building downtown. Only about eight people were marching on Fair Avenue in the early afternoon, and about 15 workers were raising their signs as car horns blared in support of their cause on High Street.

On day one of the strike about 40 workers, wearing blue T-shirts with a quote from Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give” marched. Palmer said about 70 or 80 people showed up at one point in time or another.

Palmer said she set up a bank account on Monday because other unions have vowed to support the striking workers. Striking social workers’ benefits and paychecks stopped on Monday.

Bob Barker said the numbers dwindled a little, not just because of the heat, but because people are dealing with daycare issues and supplementing their income.

“They’re trying to shuffle for daycare arrangements, they’re trying to go out and find other incomes at this point,” he said. “Because we don’t know long this is going to go, so they are making their contingency preparations.”

Preparing their young charges for what might happen was also difficult, according to Caitlin Bausano, who is an ongoing social worker and has kids she has been working with for a long time.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen so to some of the ones who might understand some of the concrete issues, I would say things like, ‘I might not be here on Monday,’ and they would ask why,” she said. “But I couldn’t go into details about it because they can’t understand, and it sounds ridiculous to kids.”

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