Workers strike in Morgan Local School District

The strike comes after unsuccessful negotiations over a wage dispute between the union of bus drivers, cooks, secretaries, and others and the school board.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:28 PM EST
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MORGAN COUNTY, Ohio (WTAP) - Members of the OAPSE Local 51 union in the Morgan Local School District began striking at around 5 in the morning on March 1. The strike comes after unsuccessful negotiations over a wage dispute between the union of bus drivers, cooks, secretaries and other employees and the school board.

Workers demonstrated outside of Morgan County schools and the district office. Clint McCoy, head of maintenance in the district, said that despite the circumstances, the strike was going well so far, at least in terms of community support. “Everybody is in good spirits, we’ve got plenty of support,” McCoy said. “We’ve had donuts for breakfast people donated, pizza for lunch people donated. Everybody’s upbeat and we’re hoping to get this finished.”

On the night of Feb. 28, union president Tom Quaintance said that superintendent Dr. Kristen Barker met with union leadership for a last-minute negotiation session. Then, Dr. Barker made the highest raise package offer the union has yet to receive, of 5% this year, 4% next year, and another 4% in the following year. In a statement Dr. Barker released midday on March 1, the superintendent said that the offer was “extremely fair.” Dr. Barker wrote that “By comparison, the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) average wage increase in Ohio is 2.3%.”

The number Dr. Barker referred to was reported in the Ohio State Employment Relations Board’s (SERB) 2021 Wage Settlement Report: for the state of Ohio, the report shows, the average three-year wage increases agreed to in contracts negotiated in 2021 were 2.3% in year one, 2.37% in year two, and 2.32% in year three. However, that report also showed that the average wage increase in Southeastern Ohio in particular was higher, averaging 2.96%-2.43%-2.39% over the typical three-year contract. Moreover, SERB’s 2022 Wage Settlement Report, released on March 1, shows the average went up to 3%-2.72%-2.66% statewide, and 3.28%-2.5%-2.32% in Southeastern Ohio. For negotiations in the last quarter of 2022, according to SERB’s most recent Fact-Finding Report / Conciliation Award Quarterly Stats, the numbers are higher still, at 5.19%-4.03%-4.19%.

During the Feb. 28 meeting, union leadership turned down the 5%-4%-4% offer.

Bus driver Michelle Maxwell explained that the union is trying to secure yearly raises of 6%, 5%, and 5% over the next three years. “We feel that is a compromise,” Maxwell said. “There is a neighboring school district that has a comparable annual revenue to Morgan Local School District, and to make what they make now in 2026, it would have to be nine-nine-nine across the board, and we would still be three years behind them, because they’re making that now.”

That school district, which Maxwell identified as Franklin Local in Muskingum County, currently pays their bus drivers a base rate of $19.63 an hour, over a dollar more than the maximum amount paid to Morgan Local bus drivers, according to the most recent contracts negotiated in both districts.

Maxwell, as well as Tom Quaintance, said the strike is peaceful, and that there has been no conflict between the striking workers and anyone affiliated with the school district.

Statements released by Dr. Barker emphasize the board’s concern for the students. In the most recent statement WTAP has received, Dr. Barker writes: “The district must carefully manage its funding to continue to offer quality educational experiences, well-qualified teaching staff, and functional facilities and operations for our students.” An FAQ regarding the status of the district and the union’s negotiations was posted to the district website. As of this writing, it was last updated on Feb. 27.

Currently, further negotiations between the union and the school board are set for March 10.