More than 270 Ohio child welfare caseworkers and their support staff could soon be going on strike.
The Professional Guild of Ohio, which represents Montgomery County Job And Family Services workers, filed a strike notice on Monday, saying they plan to walk off the job July 19 if they can’t reach a new agreement.
“The only thing on the table is negotiations for wages,” says Jane Hay, president of the local union office.
Hay says members have been overwhelmed and pushed to the breaking point by the opioid crisis, and they need to be compensated accordingly. Child welfare caseworkers facilitate foster care and adoption and work with abused and neglected children and their families.
“We always advocate and try to get our families to advocate for themselves and stand up for themselves, so we need to lead by example,” Hay says. “We need to stand up for ourselves.”
Hay says Montgomery County child welfare caseworkers make between $19.60 and $30.37 per hour.
A proposal made by union members called for raises up to 6%, with 4% guaranteed and another 2% tied to annual evaluations. A fact-finder appointed by the State Employment Relations Board sided with most parts of the union’s request, but county commissioners rejected the fact-finder’s report at their June meeting. (A copy of the report can be viewed below.)
“Montgomery County’s last offer to PGO would have provided fair and competitive compensation to our employees, and ensured that we remain responsible stewards of taxpayer money and our human services levy funds," reads a statement from Montgomery County administrator Michael Colbert, following the strike notice.
The statement also says “operations will remain open and we will continue to provide high-quality services during a strike” by using a strike contingency plan that employs about 70 people to cover “essential services.”
Hay calls the county’s reaction to the labor strife “sad.”
“We’ve been doing this for 11 years with the opioid crisis," Hay says. "We have built relationships with these families, and it’s going to be really hard for anybody else to try to come in to service these families.”
Strikes involving child welfare workers are relatively rare but not unheard of. Employees in Butler County went on strike in 2014, about two months after a similar strike in Montgomery County was narrowly avoided.
Butler County workers returned after three weeks, without a contract, but sealed a new deal a few months later. As a result, the county agreed to increase salaries while giving out merit raises for the first time.