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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Head Start workers reject final contract, vote to allow strike

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Head Start employees, who provide preschool educational services to more than 2,000 children across Lucas County, have overwhelmingly rejected a final contract offer and voted to authorize a strike, a union official said yesterday.

Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 800 voted 87-14 Friday against a contract that would increase health insurance costs for more than 300 employees in the bargaining unit, Andre Washington, chief negotiator for the union, said yesterday.

Head Start management offered a package that would require employees to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums. Currently, they pay a flat $65 a month for family plan coverage.

James Powell, deputy director of programs for the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, which operates the federally funded Head Start program in Toledo, said health insurance "is probably the central stumbling block" in negotiations that have been under way since May. The old contract expired May 31.

Mr. Powell said the union has requested another bargaining session for this week.

Mr. Washington said management is asking too much of the employees.

"We understand that Head Start funding has been cut, and we are willing to negotiate an increase, but not double what we are paying," he said. "They also want us to accept a clause in the contract that if you are absent [without an excuse] or tardy more than 10 days, you will automatically be terminated."

The average Head Start employee works nine months a year and receives about $19,000 annually. Teachers receive the highest salary, $14 an hour.

Sylvia Huntley, Head Start director for Lucas County, said she hopes the two sides continue to talk. "I'm sure health insurance is a thing a lot of people are grappling with today," she said.



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