Youngstown district, union lawyers mull best way to grant teacher pay raises

By Graig Graziosi


Lawyers for Krish Mohip, Youngstown schools CEO, and the teachers union will have to agree on what is the best way to grant teacher raises without violating labor laws.

Mohip on Tuesday responded to an unfair labor practice charge filed against him by the Youngstown Education Association.

The union’s complaint accuses Mohip of engaging in public bargaining through the manipulation of local media and challenged Mohip’s interpretation of when certain provisions of House Bill 70 become active.

HB 70 gives the CEO broad powers to run the school district to make sure it rises to state academic standards.

Mohip and YEA President Larry Ellis have been engaging in a back-and-forth over Mohip’s intent to give district teachers a 5 percent raise on top of the 2 percent raise promised in their current contract.

Ellis and his legal counsel believe Mohip – who says he needs to reopen the contract negotiations to give the teachers a raise – is using the raise as a sort of “Trojan Horse” tactic for accelerating the implementation of provisions in HB 70.

“HB 70 gives me authority and decision-making power that is not typical for a district leader,” he wrote in an op-ed piece for The Vindicator in April.

Mohip went on to say he has chosen not to use that power and would prefer to work with the teachers.

Atty. Ira Mirkin, a member of the YEA’s legal counsel through the law firm of Green, Haines and Sgambati, said allowing Mohip to reopen the collective bargaining would put all future collective-bargaining rights in Mohip’s control.

The union argues the provisions in HB 70 that would grant Mohip power over collective bargaining won’t go into effect until 2018-19, when the current contract expires.

Mohip and his legal counsel disagree with that interpretation, however, arguing that HB 70 went into effect in October 2015, and that Mohip currently has the power to reopen negotiations with the union.

Before filing the labor complaint, the YEA suggested if Mohip wanted to take unilateral action to give the teachers a raise, the union would not file a labor complaint against him for doing so.

“The union won’t challenge him if he takes unilateral action,” Mirkin said.

Mohip said, however, he was unwilling to “cut a side deal” with the unions, alleging past side deals made before his tenure have been detrimental to the district.

Besides, he added, salaries and benefits are considered mandatory subjects of bargaining under the law, meaning any action to amend those issues must be done through negotiation.

“[Ellis] is essentially asking me to bend the rules and create a side deal. It’s making side deals that has crippled this district over the period of time when we’ve done that, and we’ve made some bad decisions along the way. We’re not doing that anymore,” Mohip said. “When it comes down to bargaining, there are mandatory subjects of bargaining; wages and benefits are one of them. I am not comfortable going ahead and unilaterally making a decision on the subject of bargaining. I won’t operate that way.”

The YEA’s labor complaint also alleges Mohip engaged in public bargaining, using the press to create public pressure on the union to bend to Mohip’s wishes.

“Mr. Mohip published an op-ed in the Vindy, and Larry [Ellis] had no choice but to respond to it. When that happens, it’s legal and appropriate for the other side in a labor dispute to respond publicly once that door is open. He had no choice but to respond,” Mirkin said.

Mohip argues, however, the public airing of grievances began with the union, not him.

He claims to have written the op-ed in response to a quote made by YEA vice president Paula Valentini in a Jan. 19 Vindicator article concerning Mohip’s leadership team’s salaries.

The quote in question reads: “Whether this team will warrant the high salaries that they are being paid remains to be seen. With that being said, it is the responsibility of this district’s teachers to implement the academic initiatives to benefit our children, yet we are one of the lowest-paid group of educators in the county,” she said. “It’s important to remember that this will make it difficult to attract new teachers to our district in the future.”

Mohip maintains this quote prompted his April op-ed piece.

He also said it was Ellis who first went public in the recent debate, saying Ellis’ news release was the opening shot in the public debate. A May 4 letter from Mohip to Ellis was made public as well, but Mohip said the letter became public as a result of a third-party FOIA request, not an intentional leak to the press.

Despite the communication breakdown over the last several days, Mohip and Ellis have expressed a desire to solve their issues at the bargaining table rather than in a courtroom, though currently no official plan of action has been announced by Mohip.

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