Strike over Monday

Workers would have lost medical coverage if they didn’t return Monday
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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All but three of the striking public-services workers reported back to work Monday morning. That’s according to the city of Lincoln’s public information officer Jill Thompson, who said the remaining three workers “are expected to report back to work” on Tuesday. She cited personal reasons for the three not returning on Monday. But city officials and union officials will not say why the workers returned and if any of their demands were met. “We have no official word from the union on whether the strike is officially over,” Thompson said Monday. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 members were picketing since Sept. 14 after City Council voted to implement a Last, Best, and Final Offer. Changes to employee contracts in the one-year Last, Best, and Final Offer include employees paying 10-percent out-of-pocket for their health care and 100 percent of any health-care rate changes, which are the reasons the employees began striking. Since the employees are now back at work, the current contract they are working under is the Last, Best and Final Offer, according to Thompson. As of press time, neither the city nor the union would comment on why the strike is over. “We are assuming the strike is over as all employees have returned to work and we are very happy to welcome them back,” City Manager Jim Estep said. When asked why the strike had ended, City Manager Jim Estep said the city “haven’t heard anything from Local 39.” Lincoln Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak made a similar comment Tuesday. “We have had no communication from the Local 39 classified leadership regarding why the employees have returned to work,” Jatczak said. The News Messenger called and e-mailed Local 39 director of public employees Joan Bryant on Monday and Tuesday, requesting the same information. Bryant did not respond, as of press time. Local 39 business representative James Britton was asked why the public-services employees returned to work and if the strike was over. Britton responded via e-mail Monday to The News Messenger with a “No comment thanks.” The News Messenger asked city of Lincoln human resources analyst Sheila Van Zandt if the striking employees returned to work because their medical coverage would end in November. Van Zandt said The News Messenger would need to contact Local 39 to find out why the public- services employees returned to work. “We can tell you that strike-related absences had an impact on how CalPERS administers our medical coverage,” Van Zandt said. “When employees do not have any hours worked in a previous calendar month, CalPERS informed us that they would not be eligible for medical the next month.” If employees didn’t work the entire month of October, Van Zandt said, they would have no medical coverage in November. “For this reason, the affected employees were given options: to continue their medical via direct billing at full cost to the employee, drop their coverage or consider continuing coverage through the COBRA program,” Van Zandt said. Lincoln bus driver Tom Marchesi said Local 39 members voted Friday to return to work. “I’m very happy to be (back at work),” Marchesi said. “We didn’t gain anything from the standpoint of going on strike but the fact that we are back at work is good enough for me.” Marchesi said he “believed a lot of the workers chose to come back to work for financial reasons” and because “Monday was the last day to keep medical coverage.” Kevin Craugh, a streets employee, said he was “glad to be back and still have medical.” “I’m not too happy with them (the city) using medical as a scare tactic,” Craugh said. Parks employee Phil Dudley said “it’s good to be back.” “I made the decision to go back to work,” Dudley said. “The main reason was the (potential) of losing my medical coverage, and that it was putting an incredible financial strain on myself and family.” While a contract the employees could agree to did not occur through the strike, Dudley said, the “bonding of people that don’t normally work together was phenomenal.”