Oberlin’s Head Start Narrowly Averts Strike
By Luke Tracy

A last minute contract vote last Friday by the employees of Lorain County Community Action Agency, represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, narrowly avoided a strike that could have potentially disrupted services to low-income residents of Lorain County.
Seven Oberlin College students work at the Oberlin LCCAA Head Start site located on Rt. 58, just past Drug Mart through the America Reads program, coordinated by the Center for Service and Learning.
While contract negotiations had been ongoing since June, management and employees had long been at an impasse over key issues. The old contract, set to expire July 30th, had been temporarily extended three times since then.
At issue were wages, health care costs, employee transfers within the agency and absenteeism. The new contract was approved 85-25 by the union and will be in effect for the next three years.
LCCAA is a publicly funded anti-poverty agency that provides such services for low-income residents of Lorain County as Meals on Wheels and low-cost housing.
The new contract guarantees employees a 3.5 percent salary increase for this year; retroactive to August 1, when the contract had been originally scheduled to take effect.
Currently, a Head Start teacher starts at $10.18 per hour with an associates degree to and $11.45 per hour with a bachelor’s degree. After this year, salaries will increase according to the federal Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and what funds are available for additional increases.
Another point of contention had been the employee contribution to health care costs. Management wanted to increase the percentage of the premium paid by employees to 15 percent with the remaining 85 percent paid by the employer from ten percent by employees and the remaining 90 percent paid by the organization in the old contract.
The union prevailed to keep the employee contribution at 10 percent, arguing that the already low salaries, combined with an increased healthcare cost would lock employees into the kind of grinding poverty that the agency is supposed to be working against.
The agency, meanwhile, remains in a bit of a financial bind. Traditionally, the federal government provided a “Quality Improvement Grant” to augment salaries of agency employees and supervisors among other things.
For the past fiscal year, that grant was in the neighborhood of $300,000. For the upcoming year, that grant was cut to $41,000. This means that the organization will have to look elsewhere for the funds for the 3.5 percent salary increase for all employees this year.
Compounding the agency’s workforce and financial issues, LCCAA President Anna Taylor-Carter has come under fire for misusing agency funds and buildings for her own purposes.
Taylor-Carter had the agency’s catering service cater her wedding for which she was charged what some felt was an overly discounted rate and did not pay the bill until nine months after the event.
She also paid for airline tickets for her husband, a minister who is not an employee of the agency using an agency credit card, another charge she took quite some time to pay back and allowed him to use an LCCAA leased building for his religious services free of charge.
In spite of these allegations, the LCCAA Board of Trustees plans to renew Taylor-Carter’s contract.
President Taylor-Carter’s salary has also rubbed many in the union the wrong way. They contend that her salary of $100,118 per year is too high, especially in light of her misuses of agency resources. The president of the community action agency serving the Youngstown area, which has a similarly sized program and budget is paid only $73,387 per year, which the Union contended would be more appropriate. Taylor-Carter has also traveled to Hawaii for a conference with the agency’s money which although, not unethical, has made for bad blood between the union and management.
Chief union organizer and negotiator, Maria Kawentel of SEIU didn’t mince words.

“Now that contract negotiations are behind us, its the Union’s hope that the employer quit fiddling with the financial records to make it look as though Anna Taylor Carter is Snow White when she is in fact Cruella Deville,” she said.

LCCAA did not return calls seeking comment.

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