Strike threatens to derail crucial Greek election

A strike announced Thursday by Greek municipal employees is threatening to derail the crucial June 17 national election, which could determine whether the debt-crippled country continues to use the euro.

The POE-OTA union, which represents thousands of people who work for cities, villages and other municipalities, says its members are paid far less for doing elections-related work than other government employees.

Municipal workers are a key part of the voting process, from setting up voting centers with ballot boxes, booths and ballots to handling last-minute documentation for voters.

Greece is surviving on international rescue loans, granted on condition it imposes harsh austerity measures to curtail government overspending as well as pursue broad economic reforms. But an electorate angry at repeated income cuts and tax hikes boosted anti-austerity parties in a first, inconclusive national election on May 6.

Opinion polls show a radical left-wing party that has vowed to tear up the country's austerity commitments — even at risk of creditors freezing the vital bailout payments and forcing Greece out of the 17-member eurozone — is running neck-and-neck with the pro-bailout conservatives.

POE-OTA head Themis Balassopoulos said Thursday that the union will hold a two-day strike on June 16-17. He also said municipal employees will refuse to do any election-related work until then.

Balassopoulos told The Associated Press that municipal employees were paid €60 ($75) euros for their work in the last election — which he said was a fraction of what other public servants got.

"We asked for dignified pay," he said. "If the country has no money, it can't just be for us while Interior Ministry employees get €1,800 ($2,300) — that's three months' salary for a municipal garbage collector. It's a provocation."

Balassopoulos said he sees little prospect of a resolution, and predicted there could be "chaos."

"The elections are up in the air," he said. "We carry the ballot boxes, set up and clean the voting centers, we transport the used ballots... Anything you can imagine in connection with the elections, we do it."

If the dispute is not resolved, the government could seek a court ruling to declare the strike illegal, or even issue a civil mobilization order.

A government official said late Thursday that the caretaker administration will take "all necessary action" to ensure the elections are not disrupted. The official, who was not authorized to comment on the record, spoke on condition of anonymity.