As the saying goes, there truly is no rest for the weary – including OAPSE members who are facing challenges on several fronts as we navigate the first weeks of the new school year.
But even though it seems as if a new problem or obstacle pops up every day, the one thing you don’t have to worry about is the fact that OAPSE is fighting for you and will be here for you – and we will overcome those challenges together.
I wanted to update you on a few topics which may affect OAPSE members and let you know what we are doing to stand up for your rights.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
The federal government has issued regulations imposing a COVID vaccination mandate on some government employees across the country. It is the opinion of OAPSE and our national union, AFSCME, that this requirement does not apply to OAPSE members, with the exception of those who work in Head Start agencies.
School employees and workers in our county boards of developmental disabilities (DDs), community colleges and public libraries are not covered by the administration’s vaccine provisions. Some employers in the public sector, including boards of education, may be considering imposing a COVID vaccine requirement. We do not expect the State of Ohio to require COVID vaccinations.
Our union is prepared to respond to any employer which imposes a COVID vaccination requirement as a condition of employment. While courts in the United States have – up to now – upheld the right of employers to impose such mandates, OAPSE has the right to bargain over the impact of such mandates on our members.
Our union will demand that such negotiations must take place with any school board, DD, public library or community college which implements a COVID vaccination mandate. If there is any discussion of a vaccination requirement for our members, make sure your OAPSE local officers contact their field representative or regional director immediately.
Ohio National Guard as School Bus Drivers
It is clear that there is a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers. In Ohio, school districts have faced this shortage for several years, but the COVID situation has made the problem even worse.
You may have heard that other states are planning to use members of their National Guard units to drive school buses – and even that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has considered such a move.
We have contacted the governor about the situation, and he has responded. We will be in regular communication with him and senior officials in the governor’s office as discussions continue about the shortage.
Our bottom line is that our students must be safe and that no action is taken that violates our collective bargaining agreements. We are opposed to any bus driver who is not fully trained and qualified to drive students.
And we will be putting forth our recommendation that the first step to easing the shortage should be to recruit qualified retired school bus drivers who have experience and training and know what they are doing.
It takes a special person to drive a school bus. They take very seriously the responsibility of keeping students safe and making sure they get to school and home on time. They care about “their” kids. It’s a tough job, and we are so grateful to our members who do it so well every day.
In fact, OAPSE State President Lois Carson recently went before the Columbus City Schools Board of Education to express her appreciation for bus drivers in Columbus and across the state. You can view her remarks at the bottom of this update.
Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)
Our fight continues to repeal the Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
On September 15, I addressed the AFSCME International Executive Board, whose members represent more than 1.5 million members across the country. I emphasized the harm the GPO and WEP do to tens of thousands of Ohio retirees. And the International union played one of our videos that highlights the impact of the GPO on four of our members. You can view the video here.
The presentation and video were very well received, and President Lee Saunders pledged the full support of the national union as we continue our efforts to repeal these unjust laws that penalize public workers – particularly women – who often cannot afford to retire and must work well into their 70s.
In addition, Mark Bernard of Massachusetts, who serves with me as an International Union Vice President, wrote in support of our efforts to his member of congress, Richard Neal, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction over the GPO and WEP repeal legislation. You can view that letter here.
The national union’s legislative staff will continue to make the repeals a top priority by passing the Social Security Fairness Act. In the U.S. House of Representatives, that means passing HR 82, which currently has 227 cosponsors. In the Senate, the vehicle for repeal is SR 1302, which is sponsored by Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and has 34 cosponsors.
To see more stories about how devastating the GPO and WEP are for our members, go to www.oapse.org and click on the “Social Security Card” at the top of the page. You will be directed to a special area where you can view more videos and download petitions.
Sisters and brothers, thank you for being part of OAPSE and for making us stronger so we can fight these battles and make life better for the 34,000 members we represent and all public workers in Ohio.