The chairman of the Mahoning County commissioners praised the county engineer and sheriff for their efforts to swiftly address the public safety hazard posed by numerous potholes brought on by the severe winter and recent freezing and thawing.
Commissioner David Ditzler said, however, their use of day-reporting sheriff’s inmates to help fill the potholes should have been discussed in advance with Teamsters Local 377, which has filed a grievance concerning the use of free labor by the inmates.
The Teamsters union represents the engineer’s road-maintenance staff, which regularly performs this work.
Kristin N. Barrett, special projects coordinator in the engineer’s office, said the inmates were working with the road crews Friday.
County Engineer Patrick Ginnetti could not be reach for comment Friday.
“The main concern is probably that you don’t have anyone laid off or people losing work over it with someone else doing their job,” Ditzler said of the grievance.
Ditzler said the engineer’s management first will try to resolve the matter with the Teamsters. If they can’t, the matter will go to arbitration, he added.
Overtime costs this winter have “just drained Pat Ginnetti’s budget,” Ditzler said.
“I think it’ll all be worked out,” the commissioner said, adding he doesn’t see much difference between using inmate labor and the regular use of summer workers paid to cut grass for the engineer’s office.
“You’re not going to be able to put a second crew on afternoon turn and pay the Teamsters time and a half to address the situation more quickly because you don’t have the money to do it,” Ditzler said of the pothole problem.
Rich Sandberg, Local 377 president, had said earlier he wished his union had been consulted before the inmates were assigned to pothole-filling duty in late February. Had the union been consulted, an agreement might have been worked out, he said.
Sandberg said the union is wary of free labor that might displace union members. He declined to comment further.
When the inmates first started filling potholes, Ginnetti said he believes using them does not violate the Teamsters’ contract and that the use of the inmates is not intended to replace his department’s current staff.
Ginnetti said he wanted to save taxpayers money and repair more of the “extremely damaged roadway system without spending more of our already stressed overtime budget.”
Sheriff Jerry Greene said — as far as he knows — no jobs or overtime hours have been taken away from union members by the inmates.
The sheriff said he’d participate in the project as long as Ginnetti is willing to participate and no ruling has been made that would stop it.
“It’s between the engineer and his union,” Greene said of the dispute. “I understand why they filed the grievance. They’re just protecting their position.”
Greene said the day-reporting program provides a way for nonviolent offenders to serve their sentences and help the county, while freeing jail beds to be occupied by violent criminals.