Children services board strike ends

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The Summit County Children Services Board and its union ended a 155-day strike when negotiators agreed to let an arbitrator decide their contract through the State Employment Relations Board.

The deal includes a written back-to-work agreement, which means the 270 striking employees will return to their jobs Dec. 29.

Workers will continue under the terms of the expired contract until the new contract is implemented.

"Unfortunately, the strike lasted as long as it did," CSB Executive Director Joseph White Jr. said Tuesday night. "Arbitration is a good way to bring this to some kind of resolve and we can return the agency to normal operations in the next few weeks."

Union President Robin Schenault was relieved that her members, who have been off the job since July 14, would be back to work soon.

"I'm glad it's over," the Communications Worker of America Local 4546 leader said. "We look forward to getting back to the kids."

County Executive James B. McCarthy on Dec. 4 asked both sides to seek binding arbitration, a procedure typically used by firefighters and police officers who are prohibited from striking.

CSB agreed it would not submit a fact-finder's report to the arbitrator as evidence. Neither side will appeal unless there are extreme problems with the arbitrator or the process.

The end of the longest and most bitter strike in agency history comes just in time for a crucial vote Wednesday in County Council about whether to place a CSB renewal levy on the March ballot.

A three-year contract ran out March 31 and the two sides had been unable to agree on several issues, including the size of workers' caseloads.

Caseworkers said high caseloads were dangerous for the families involved and for the social workers. CSB officials said the caseloads were within acceptable standards.

Workers who investigate reports of abuse usually handle an average of 20 families per month, according to CSB. Other social workers deal with 13 families per month, officials said.

The union says some of its members are handling two and three times those numbers.

The workers will be returning to an agency that has continued its work during the strike with supervisors and employees who crossed the picket lines.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)