By Peter H. Milliken
Several labor union contracts for Mahoning County government workers remained in limbo until Thursday as the decisive election concerning public employee collective-bargaining rights loomed ahead next week, and some are still in limbo.
On Thursday, the county commissioners approved three-year contracts for workers in the county engineer’s office, 911 center, child support enforcement agency and the recycling, building inspection and microfilm departments.
None of the contracts features any pay increases, and all require a 10 percent employee contribution to health-care premiums.
Employer payments of the employee share of retirement contributions range from full payment in the engineer’s office to none in the 911 center.
All the contacts were ratified by the union workers before the commissioners approved them.
Departments still in labor negotiations with other bargaining units are the Department of Job and Family Services, auditor’s office and recorder’s office.
John A. McNally IV, chairman of the county commissioners, said Tuesday’s election wasn’t the motivation for the Thursday ratifications.
“Our negotiation schedule is not set based on SB 5,” McNally said of talks aimed at achieving labor contracts.
“The process for negotiation continues, and with 18 different bargaining groups, it’s spread out over time,” McNally said.
“Some of our challenges have been solved by bringing on a full-time human resources director,” McNally said, referring to Rachel Livengood, who joined the county in May and devotes much of her time to labor negotiations.
Negotiations have proceeded despite the uncertainty concerning the fate of state Issue 2 — the statewide referendum on Senate Bill 5 that will appear on Tuesday’s ballot, McNally said.
J. Robert Lyden, county sanitary engineer, however, said he hopes a labor agreement in his department can be ratified and signed soon so it won’t have to be renegotiated should the voters uphold SB 5.
Lyden said management in his department has submitted a proposal for ratification by the members of the independent labor union representing workers there.
“I’m glad that it’s settled so we can go on with normal business,” county Engineer Richard A. Marsico said of his department’s agreement with Teamsters Local 377.
Although polls show Issue 2 is likely to fail, the stakes in this election are high.
Among the major provisions of SB 5 that would affect county workers are the ban on employer payments of all or part of employee shares of retirement contributions; the requirement that employees pay at least 15 percent of their health- care premiums; and the exclusion of supervisors from collective bargaining, McNally said.
In Mahoning County government, child support enforcement supervisors are represented by the Teamsters Local 377; other Job and Family Services supervisors are represented by United Auto Workers Local 1112; and ranking officers in the sheriff’s department are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141.
Atty. Dave Betras, county Democratic Party chairman, predicted Issue 2 will fail. However, if it passes and SB 5 is thereby upheld, Betras believes any union contracts ratified and signed by both labor and management before the election results are certified will be protected for their duration.
County elections boards typically certify election results about three weeks after an election.
Ohio lawyers have varying opinions about the critical date, Livengood said. Some agree with Betras that the election certification date is the key date and others, including McNally, refer to Election Day (Tuesday) as the key date.
Still other lawyers believe that if SB 5 is upheld at the polls, the critical date was July 1, the day the bill would have taken effect had there not been a referendum, Livengood observed.
“A lot of these things are still up in the air,” McNally said.
“We’ll let the lawyers fight it out” if Issue 2 passes, said Marilyn Kenner, chief deputy county engineer.
Marsico said he hopes the contract in his department can remain intact without having to be renegotiated. “I want to be able to enter the snow-and-ice season without conflict and with men able to know exactly what’s going on and not have to be in negotiations,” he said.
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains and McNally predicted that disputes over the critical date will end up in court if Issue 2 passes.
“Regardless of what happens next Tuesday, and regardless of the certification process of that vote, we will continue our negotiations with unions as we have,” McNally said.
In central and western Ohio, some groups of public employees, including teachers, negotiated, ratified and signed three-year contract extensions before July 1 to ensure protection of contract terms for the duration, regardless what might happen to SB 5, Livengood said.
Despite the expired labor contracts in Mahoning County government, Livengood and McNally said they don’t believe anyone engaged in county labor talks is deliberately stalling negotiations while awaiting the fate of SB 5.
Jim Graham, president of UAW Local 1112, which is best known for its representation of General Motors workers at Lordstown, said he doesn’t think Issue 2 will pass, but, if it does, he’d like to see the unit at JFS under a new contract before SB 5 would take effect.
“You become strong through collective bargaining. You don’t take that right away from people and expect good results,” Graham said.
“There’s a giant spotlight on the state of Ohio,” Graham said. If supporters of Issue 2 and SB 5 are successful, “it’ll be a building block for them to eventually eradicate all organized labor, and, at that point, we’d turn into a third-world country,” he added.
Voter turnout by organized labor movement supporters will be critical, Graham said. “We have a lot of momentum going into this election. What we have to do is get our people out to vote.”