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Reinstate laid-off jail workers, district appeals court rules



Published: Sat, May 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Commissioners will be reviewing the decision to determine its impact on the county.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

LISBON -- An appeals court has upheld a 1997 arbitrator's award that reinstates dozens of laid-off Columbiana County jail workers, but there are no public jail jobs for them to return to.

The 42 employees were laid off in February 1997 from the county jail, which has been operated since early 1998 by a private company using its own employees.

The county has a contract with CiviGenics Inc. of Milford, Mass., to operate the lockup. County officials estimate that the agreement saves the county about $700,000 annually for prisoner housing, which cost the county nearly $2 million in 2000.

Some of the laid-off county jail workers later landed jobs with CiviGenics, county officials have said.

County commissioners had no comment on the ruling issued Friday by the 7th District Court of Appeals. They said they must first review the court's decision before they decide what they're going to do.

Union pursued action: The appeals court ruled on a matter brought before it in November 1999 by the Fraternal Order of Police, which represented the laid-off sheriff's department corrections workers.

The events leading to Friday's decision began in July 1997 when the FOP contested the layoffs.

The union argued before an arbitrator that the furloughs violated the employees' labor contract, which allowed layoffs only if there were a lack of funds or work.

The union said neither situation existed. But the county insisted that it was strapped for funding.

In August 1997, an arbitrator determined the layoffs were unjustified because funding was available in the county budget. He ordered the employees reinstated with back pay.

The arbitrator's award became the basis of a Columbiana County Common Pleas Court case handled by visiting Judge John Milligan.

In October 1999, Judge Milligan ruled that the arbitrator had no legal authority to order the employees reinstated.

Judge Milligan also said the county acted properly in laying off the employees.

Appealed decision: The FOP appealed Judge Milligan's decision to the 7th District.

In the decision filed Friday, the appeals court determined that Judge Milligan was "obligated to confirm the arbitrator's award" because the county failed to file motions to either vacate or correct the award.

Instead, the county argued against the union's motion to have Judge Milligan confirm the arbitrator's award. The county was represented by a private law firm.

The appeals court reversed Judge Milligan's decision to scrap the arbitrator's award and ordered it reinstated.




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