OAPSE Fights Back Against Layoffs in Willoughby Eastlake Schools

To: OAPSE Members

From: Executive Director Joe Rugola

Re: An Update on OAPSE’s Fight for Willoughby-Eastlake School Employees

Date: December 28

We hope you are enjoying the holiday season – even with the limitations necessary because of the COVID-19 health emergency.

Most OAPSE members began their winter break knowing they had jobs to go back to in January. But not the members of locals 159 and 163 at Willoughby Eastlake City Schools. Those 209 custodians, maintenance employees and food service workers were laid off December 16, and thrown off their health insurance after December 31 – unless they can come up with $699 for single coverage or $1,922 to keep their families insured.

But OAPSE is fighting back to save these jobs and health care coverage.

If you live in the Cleveland area, you have heard our radio ads or received a robo call pointing out the cruel and heartless actions by Superintendent Steve Thompson, who is behaving more like the Grinch than the leader of a school district. He put these dedicated employees on the street NINE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS and told them their health care coverage would end December 31 unless they came up with the money to buy their own insurance.

Superintendent Thompson is doing all this even though the district has plenty of money – a $14 million reserve and financial solvency for at least three years. And there is plenty of work for the laid-off workers. They could be feeding the 7,800 students who rely on the district for breakfast and lunch. And they could be doing the preparation for school to resume in person, including deep cleaning and sanitizing buildings and classrooms.

Superintendent Thompson and the district are also in violation of the law by laying off these employees because school employees “shall be paid for all time lost when the schools in which they are employed are closed owing to an epidemic or other public calamity,” according to the Ohio revised code.

We are surely in a calamity. And our legal team has made that clear in our court actions to save these jobs.

OAPSE Director of Legal Services Tom Drabick has filed two briefs in Lake County Court of Common Pleas to halt the layoffs and reinstate the health insurance benefits of all members of locals 159 and 163. The judge is set to rule by the end of the year, and we are confident the law is on the side of these workers.

So is the court of public opinion – the more people in the community hear about this egregious behavior by Superintendent Thompson and the board of education, the more support locals 159 and 163 are receiving.

Our public affairs team is working with Field Representative Trina Molnar and the local union leadership to get local media coverage and tell the stories of these OAPSE members who do critical work in Willoughby Eastlake City Schools, and on average make about $31,000. Meanwhile, Superintendent Thompson and his administrators make nearly $200,000 per year. None of them are laid off, and they all kept their health insurance.

We hope you will check out the videos we have posted on our Facebook page and like and share them to circulate them as widely as possible and keep the pressure on Superintendent Thompson and his administration to bring these OAPSE members back to work.

You can also use our Facebook page to send messages of solidarity and encouragement to the members of locals 159 and 163 as they await the judge’s ruling.

Those 209 OAPSE members are counting on us to fight for them. And we are not giving up until we win justice for every worker who has been mistreated by Superintendent Thompson and the school board. Just as we will be there for you and every member of our union when you face adversity of any kind.

We know that 2021 will include many challenges. But we will meet them together. And we will overcome any obstacles together. That’s the value of a union. You are not alone.

Here’s to a better new year for locals 159 and 163 and all of us.

God bless and stay safe.