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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

State board: Sick-out not illegal strike at TARTA

Possible unfair labor practice alleged instead

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Nineteen Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority drivers who called off sick on Monday were not engaged in an illegal strike, a state panel ruled Wednesday.

TARTA maintained before the State Employment Relations Board that the call-offs from bus drivers serving disabled and elderly riders constituted a strike to protest a recently instituted mandatory overtime policy. But union representatives insisted there was no orchestrated effort.

“In my opinion, I think the drivers just got sick,” said Jena Arduser, bus driver and president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697. “I think they got tired. They’re overworked.”

She said the union local’s executive board was unaware of any planned job action and stressed that leadership would have done nothing to undermine an unfair labor practice grievance it has pending against the authority.

The three-member board unanimously voted that the “job action” had ceased and could not be considered a continuing strike under state law. It should instead be addressed as a possible unfair labor practice complaint.

“Should similar activity reoccur, the board will entertain a request for immediate action and remedy,” the order stated.

On Monday, 19 out of roughly 70 drivers assigned to paratransit services called off sick or offered other excuses. Four did so on Tuesday. There were reportedly no problems on Wednesday.

The dispute stems from TARTA’s call for drivers to work more overtime because of increased demand for paratransit services.

TARTA has said it is trying to hire more drivers and acted to temporarily fill the void on Monday with a private company, TLC Ambulette.

The drivers are working under an extension of a contract that expired in 2011 and is tied up in litigation before the Ohio Supreme Court.

TARTA’s Columbus attorney, Jennifer Edwards, said the authority will decide whether to file an unfair labor practice complaint. She also said she’s confident she could make the case to SERB that drivers should be penalized one or two days’ pay if the board later finds the action has reoccurred.

Geneva Mason, TARTA human services director, told the board it was clear something unusual was happening Monday. Administrative staff had heard rumbling late last week that something was afoot after the memo was issued requiring overtime, she said.

“It was a huge number of call-offs compared to what we normally have,” she said. “As I started to listen to the messages, you could hear people stumble over their reasons for why they called off.”

The average call-off on a given day over the last year was 1.5.

“Absolutely, it jeopardized people because of the services we provide,” Ms. Mason said.

Ms. Arduser said TARTA administration has indicated that ideally 120 drivers should be providing paratransit services compared to the 67 she said are currently employed.

“Being overworked is dangerous to your health and is dangerous to the public,” she said. “These drivers are being made to literally drive themselves into the ground.”

The SERB board consists of two members appointed by Republican Gov. John Kasich — Chairman W. Craig Zimpher and Aaron Schmidt — and one by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland — N. Eugene Brundige.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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