Drivers will be walking picket line today

LISBON – Workers for CARTS, Columbiana County’s public transit system, went on strike as scheduled at 9 p.m. Wednesday, while the Community Action Agency looks for replacement drivers and other employees.

CAA officials said earlier this week that in the interim they would use CARTS administrators and CAA staff to handle priority transportation services, such as the 35 riders who need to get to and from their dialysis treatments.

The 41 CARTS drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and office staff are represented by the United Steelworkers, which issued a strike notice last week after rejecting what the CAA said was its last, best and final offer. The stalemate is over wages. The CAA is offering $1 per hour raise over three years, while the union is seeking $1.50.

Union representative Joseph Holcomb said they will begin picketing the CAA offices and CARTS garage starting today, probably from 6 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m.

CAA Executive Director Carol Bretz did not return a call Wednesday, but Holcomb said there had been no contact between the parties.

“I don’t think Carol Bretz has any intention of negotiating any further with us. I believe she would rather spend $1 million than give us another 50 cents,” he said.

Meanwhile, the union filed its own unfair labor practice complaint against the CAA, alleging the agency violated federal labor law by failing to provide the union with relevant financial information during negotiations.

Holcomb said the parties had agreed on new salary schedules for some of the workers but the CAA then stated it was unable to afford raises for the rest. He said the CAA was required to produce a detailed financial analysis backing up its unaffordability claims but instead submitted a list of employees and their wages, resulting in the violation.

CARTS is funded with federal and state dollars, as is the CAA.