AUSTINTOWN - A labor strike by members of Teamsters Local 507 who work at the American Red Cross is nearing two months, but agency officials say the local blood supply has not suffered.
Workers have been on strike since mid-February, with one group of demonstrators continuing their pickets in front of the Austintown Blood Donation Center on Westchester Drive in Austintown.
''We've had our workers on strike since February 14,'' said Christy Sabaka, communications program manager of Red Cross Northern Ohio Blood Services Region.
Tribune Chronicle / Joshua S. Flesher
Members of Teamsters Local 507 picket last week outside the American Red Cross Donor Center in Austintown. Shown, from left, are Sherry Cooper, Casie Huddleston and Andrea Gotschall.
The main stumbling block in negotiations deals with healthcare benefits.
''They have cut healthcare benefits and pensions,'' said Casie Huddleston, union steward. ''We've been without a contract since May of last year. We worked on good faith, and they just won't give on the insurance. It's way inferior to what we've had, and it costs us more.''
But management says the contract offer is not out of line.
''We've put forward contract proposals that are consistent to those given to non-union staff and management across the country,'' said Sabaka. ''We're asking them to make the same sacrifices that so many other employees have had to make across the country.''
The organization continues to move forward amidst the strike, but their normal level of blood drive work has been limited.
''Right now we are running a limited blood drive schedule. Normally, we run in Ohio about 20 to 25 a day, and we're running about two to three blood drives a day,'' Sabaka said. ''In terms of the blood supply, we are being supported by our sister organizations across the country.''
The strikers also see that Red Cross is continuing its mission.
''They're still doing great. We've heard they have enough blood to last through the summer,'' Huddleston said, adding that she believes their treatment of the workers is keeping them on strike.
''It's a humanitarian company treating it's people less than human,'' she said.
In solidarity, the strike has reached Lansing, Mich., and Toledo, according to Huddleston, who says that there are normally eight to 20 people picketing on Westchester Drive most days and that she has seen a lot of support from the community.
Although Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley and Red Cross blood services are not directly related to one another, local leaders are hopeful for a resolution.
''I think work stoppages are always unfortunate. Everyone at the Red Cross hopes it is over soon and we can get back to work as usual,'' said Karen Conklin, executive director, based in Warren.
Since the two sectors of the organization are not connected, Conklin said that the work that is done by local branches continues as it always has.
''If you look at our mission that we are a humanitarian organization, the work stoppage, although unfortunate, does not stop the Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley to go out. We continue to respond to disasters and serve our armed forces,'' said Conklin. ''Blood is not being collected locally because of the work stoppage, but the blood supply is not at risk.''
Conklin stressed that the Mahoning Valley branch of the organization is still going strong.
''Day to day operations, we continue to do our good work for the people of Mahoning and Trumbull County,'' she said.
Sabaka said that the Red Cross does have a federal mediator at this point and that they have notified them and the union of their desire to return to the negotiating table.