No fuss on first day of strike by county transit drivers

LISBON – The first day of picketing by striking CARTS employees was uneventful, according to Lisbon Police Chief Mike Abraham.

“Actually, it went very smoothly,” he said.

The 41 CARTS drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and office staff went on strike Wednesday evening and began picketing the CARTS garage and the Community Action Agency (CAA) offices first thing Thursday morning.

CARTS, Columbiana County’s public transportation system, is operated by the CAA, and both are funded with state and federal dollars.

Represented by the United Steelworkers, CARTS voted to strike last week after rejecting what the CAA made what it said was its last and best offer. The stalemate is over wages, with the CAA offering a $1 per hour raise over three years. The union is seeking $1.50.

Abraham said pickets at both sites were orderly, and there were no problems. There were about 10 pickets outside the CARTS garage and up to four at one time at the CAA offices.

“So far it’s been smooth. Our main thing is they not interfere with traffic,” he said.

“There’s not going to be a problem,” said USW representative Joseph Holcomb. He said three union members crossed the picket line and returned to work, which was expected.

Abraham also reported the CAA has contracted with Lisbon to hire village police officers to provide additional security during the period when there are no pickets. He said one auxiliary officer each will be assigned to the garage and offices from 3 to 11 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. They are being paid $15 hour.

“Ohio Edison does it for traffic control. It’s a common practice,” Abraham said of companies contracting with police departments. “They just wanted a little extra security.”

The picketing is occurring during the hours when CARTS is operating and the CAA is open, and CAA has hired Huffmaster Security to provide security during those periods. CAA Executive Director Carol Bretz reported that Huffmaster is being paid $650 to $700 per day.

Abraham said he and his officers are patrolling the strike areas during their shifts just to keep an eye on things. “We’ve been here during the daytime anyway, but they (CAA) obviously have their own security during the daytime,” he said.