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Arbiter to decide workers' contract



Published: Fri, September 1, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The sheriff's employees' last contract expired in September 2004.

By ED RUNYAN

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Rejection of a fact finder's report by Trumbull County commissioners this week sends the county and union representatives for 114 employees in the sheriff's department on a collision course with binding arbitration.

James Keating, the county's human resources director, said a hearing with an arbiter will take place in about a month and will be an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning the arbiter will rule to accept either the county's latest offer or the union's. A decision is usually announced about two weeks after the arbitration hearing.

The county and Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association could still work out a negotiated settlement on the three-year contract before that time, Keating said.

On the wage issue, the fact finder agreed with the union, saying four of its five bargaining units should get increases of 4 percent, 4.25 percent and 4 percent effective October 2005 through Oct. 1, 2007. The fact finder was Atty. Joseph W. Gardner of Canfield. A fact finder is appointed by the State Employment Relations Board with the approval of both parties.

Gardner recommended that a fifth bargaining unit, containing workers in such jobs as custodian and receptionist said to be underpaid by the union, would get increases throughout their classifications -- as well as smaller percentage increases of 3 percent in 2006 and 2007. The first four units represent deputies, sergeants and lieutenants, corrections officers and assistant wardens.

County's offer

Keating said the county was offering increases of 2 percent, 2 percent and 2.5 percent for all of the sheriff's workers, which is the wage package agreed upon with 20 county 911 center workers in their last contract, which was approved in May. They are also members of the OPBA.

The sheriff's employees' last contract expired in September 2004.

Commissioner Paul Heltzel, who along with Commissioner Dan Polivka voted against the fact finder's report, said that he felt the report was "too rich" and that he disagreed with a couple of other management issues it contained; he declined to be more specific.

Keating said if an arbiter selects the last offer from the union, it would cost the county an additional $618,000 over the three years. He said he didn't know how much the county's offer would cost.

On the issue of wages, Keating said area labor unions have been getting pay increases of around 2.5 percent or 3 percent. "This is a very depressed area. They [pay raises] have to be within reason," Keating said.

Union official's views

Atty. Randy Weltman, an OPBA representative, said he thinks it is doubtful a negotiated settlement will occur. He added that SERB guidelines say that arbiters should respect the fact finder's recommendations. "They have to ... show it was wrong to rule differently," he said.

Weltman said one reason the percentage increase recommended by the fact finder is higher than normal is that there will be one year between the old contract and new where no pay increase will be given. The higher amounts will make up for that, he said.

He added that even with the pay raises, Trumbull's sheriff employees will be paid less than those in Portage County.

He added that the union probably would have voted to approve the fact finder's report.

Gardner quoted the testimony of Adrian Biviano, county auditor, who said the county had already received $200,000 less in sales tax revenue than expected and that such revenues will probably decrease further because of the job losses at Delphi Packard and General Motors. Gardner said, however, he was not making a finding of inability to pay because the county had not provided enough data to show such a claim.

runyan@vindy.com




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