SERB backs commissioners



The union has vowed to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court if necessary.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners have won another round in their fight with Teamsters over rejection of a labor contract last year.
The State Employment Relations Board handed down a ruling affirming a SERB administrative law judge's previous decision that cleared commissioners of wrongdoing in the matter.
"This means that the commissioners did nothing wrong when they rejected that contract," said Connie Pierce, county human resources director.
The decision was dated June 4, but county officials didn't receive it until Thursday.
Still fighting
A Teamsters spokesman said the fight isn't over.
"It's a bad decision, and we will appeal," said Robert Bernat, a Teamsters business agent.
Teamsters Local 377 filed an unfair labor practice against commissioners in April 2003. The complaint said commissioners acted in bad faith by rejecting a contract with employees of the county engineer's office after they had agreed to the wage and hospitalization portion of the pact.
Beth C. Shillington, SERB administrative law judge, ruled in January that commissioners were within their rights to vote against the contract and said they did not violate Ohio's labor law in doing so.
The union appealed and asked for a review by the full SERB board. Each side submitted written documents and a hearing was in May. Based on those factors, the SERB board voted this week to uphold Shillington's January decision.
"We've always felt that we were the contracting authority, and this just validates that opinion," said Commissioner Ed Reese.
Bernat said the union will continue appealing as high as the Ohio Supreme Court, if necessary. He was unsure where the next appeal will be filed. The union's attorney, Dennis Haines, could not be reached to comment.
Center of dispute
The dispute centers around negotiations for a contract among engineer's employees. Pierce represented commissioners during negotiations over wages and benefits, and signed off on a tentative agreement for those issues only in April 2002. She did not participate in talks over other issues.
The rest of the contract was not resolved until nine months later because of a dispute over filling vacant positions within the department.
Pact rejected
Commissioners rejected the pact when it came before them for ratification in February 2003, upset that $1 per hour pay raises had already gone into effect despite the fact that they hadn't approved the contract.
Commissioners also rejected the contract because it did not require engineer's employees to contribute 10 percent of their health-care premiums.
The union argued that commissioners were aware of the wage and insurance issues by virtue of Pierce's participation in the negotiations. SERB adopted Shillington's position that commissioners were not obligated to approve the entire contract simply because Pierce had helped negotiate part of it.
bjackson@vindy.com

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