Our view: City, county right to stay out of strike

March 2, 2011 12:11:00 PM



Unions are having it tough all over. We''ve seen the battles in Wisconsin and other states over public employee unions and collective bargaining rights, which allow workers to sit at the table and negotiate wages and benefits. 


In Ohio, an effort is also under way to strip bargaining rights from state workers. 


In Mississippi, state workers don''t have bargaining rights -- they have to take what they get from the Legislature, which has ratcheted up health care costs workers must pay. 


Wisconsin and Ohio are political minefields we''d rather not wade into. In the so-called "right to work" state of Mississippi, union jobs, and the higher benefits and wages that go along with them, are few and far between. 


In Columbus, Omnova Solutions workers are still on strike, and have been so since May, after the union, United Steelworkers Local 748-L, voted 168-2 to reject the company''s new contract. Neither side will reveal specifics, but the union says the contract eliminates seniority rights, vacation, shift and job preference, and ended an incentives-based work program. The union offered to retain the same contract, with no pay raises, an offer the company rejected. 


Since last May, with workers still striking, the company has hired temporary workers and production of specialty fabrics at the plant goes on. 


But the strikers are facing a deadline. This May, after the strike turns 1 year old, workers can vote to dissolve the union. 


Which brings us to action in front of the Lowndes Board of Supervisors and Columbus City Council this week. Union workers asked the board and council to write a letter urging that the company return to talks with the union. 


On Monday, the supervisors declined to support such a letter. So did the City Council on Tuesday. 


We agree with their decision. The strike is crippling, on both the union and company sides. Union workers have obviously given up their wages during the protracted strike. The company has also lost millions during the walkout.  


As we continue to struggle through the recession, the future of the plant is in question, which would be the case with or without a strike. 


We respect the strikers'' right to bargain for a decent contract -- a right that few workers in this area have, and a right that seems to be falling by the wayside as companies and public bodies look to trim their budgets. 


We also respect the company''s right to run a profitable business. 


This is a matter left up to the workers and the company, however. Council members and supervisors can make their own individual pleas for talks to move forward. But taking sides, as a public body, is a minefield they''re right to stay out of.