By PETER H. MILLIKEN
There’s a war of words between Teamsters Local 377 and the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office management as another round of layoffs looms in the financially troubled government agency.
Six laborers and five truck drivers belonging to the union received notices March 5 that they face layoff effective Friday.
Union members are scheduled to vote at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Teamster Hall on whether they will take one unpaid furlough day a month as a concession to prevent two of the 11 layoffs.
Meanwhile, the union has appealed the layoffs to the state personnel board of review. The county must show why it believes there is just cause for the layoffs by April 8; the union has until April 21 to dispute that cause.
Other potential concessions would be giving up hazardous-duty pay and longevity pay to save two more jobs, said Sam Prosser, Teamsters Local 377 president.
“If they take concessions, we will re-evaluate and try to reduce the amount of layoffs,” said Marilyn Kenner, chief deputy engineer.
The salary scale for union members ranges from $45,531 for the lowest-paid laborers to $57,408 for a master vehicle mechanic. When benefits are factored in, the cost of these employees to the county ranges from $66,291 to $91,721.
For the nonunion employees, including management, this year’s salaries range from $42,058 for a technician to $85,363 for Kenner. When benefits are factored in, these employees cost the county between $70,820 and $126,401.
The figures for the nonunion personnel were calculated without the 5 percent pay cut these employees began taking at the start of this year, Kenner noted.
For all engineer’s office employees, the county pays not only its share of Public Employee Retirement System costs, which is 14 percent of each employee’s wages, but also the entire 10 percent employee contribution.
Declines in gasoline-tax and license-plate fee revenue — the office’s main revenue-generating sources — have fueled the cuts in the county engineer’s office, including nine layoffs in the union at the end of 2008 and five nonunion layoffs this past January, said county Engineer Richard A. Marsico.
The decline in fuel-tax revenue stems from more fuel-efficient cars. License-plate fee revenue is down because of fewer two-car households and because the recession-induced decline in shipping has led to fewer registered trucks, he added.
“It was just a perfect storm. In 2008, fuel costs went up and the asphalt cost went up ... and we just weren’t getting the money collected like we normally do,” Kenner said, noting that road-salt costs also skyrocketed.
The engineer’s office had total operating revenue of $12,422,253 in 2008 and $10,954,580 in 2009, and Kenner projects $10,123,000 for this year.
All nonunion employees have been under a pay freeze for the past two years, and, except for Marsico, they’ve been taking the monthly furlough day since Jan. 1.
Management has asked the union, which is entering the final year of a three-year contract, to rescind the 3 percent pay raise union members received Jan. 1, Kenner said.
Prosser said he is irked by the fact that Marsico, unlike other elected county officials, hasn’t taken any concessions in his $98,937 annual salary and that Marsico simultaneously collects his city engineer PERS pension and Social Security from private-sector employment.
“What kind of leader is he? He’s putting people out on the street with young families. ... He refuses to lead by example,” Prosser said.
Marsico said that if the union takes concessions, he’ll take a comparable concession, but he wants to make sure any salary giveback he provides goes to the engineer’s department, not some other county fund.
Marsico, 75, also said he sees nothing wrong with triple-dipping.
“I’ve worked 60 years, and those are all benefits that were earned prior to becoming county engineer” in 1997, he said.
Prosser said the union is taking a disproportionate share of the layoffs, compared to the nonunion work force.
“They took superficial layoffs and cuts, and they’re dropping the hatchet on us,” Prosser said.
“They [union members] haven’t taken any concessions at all in the last two years since this economy went bad. So I don’t see that they’re taking a bigger hit than we are,” said Darren Lydic, operations supervisor.
Another matter of dispute is the 12 county-owned SUVs and pickup trucks taken home by the department’s supervisory and professional staff, one of them leaving the county and going to the Windham residence of traffic engineer Robert Donham.
“Why do they take them home if they’re in such dire straits?” Prosser asked.
Kenner acknowledged that her office saved $7,000 to $8,000 a month during a three-month period when it banned take-home county vehicles to save fuel costs, but she said the take-home vehicles were reinstated to give the public better and faster 24-hour emergency service.
Kenner said she uses her county vehicle to pick up her children from school only in “an extreme emergency.”
Prosser said he doesn’t understand why so many layoffs are needed in the county office, when only two union and two nonunion employees have lost their jobs in recent years in the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office.
“It’s because Mahoning County laborers make approximately 37 percent more than their peers in surrounding counties,” Kenner said.
Kenner provided salary-comparison charts prepared by Clemans Nelson & Associates, the Dublin, Ohio-based human-resources consultants that the Mahoning engineer’s office hired to help with contract negotiations. Kenner said the engineer’s office expects to spend $5,000 this year for that firm’s services.
The engineer’s employees were higher-paid than their peers in other Northeast Ohio counties in all union job classifications for which charts were available, except foremen, where Lake County was the leader.