Many years ago, Youngs- town Mayor Patrick Ungaro, confronting a major budget crisis and disagreeable city employees, came up with a unique idea that was enthusiastically embraced by us: Let residents observe labor negotiations.
To say Ungaro was blazing a trail would be an understatement. Contract talks in the public sector have been, and continue to be, a closed-door affair.
Not only are the people who pay the tab to keep government running barred from the talks, but more often than not there are secrecy agreements that deprive the community of any pertinent information.
When Ungaro agreed to let the people in, he was speaking only for the administration. However, with all the media attention, the unions representing various city employee groups were hard-pressed to raise objections – despite their misgivings.
In the end, Youngstown city government’s labor negotiations conducted under the spotlight of public scrutiny turned out to be one of Ungaro’s more creative decisions during his long tenure as mayor.
We were able to better understand the positions taken by labor and management, and had a close-up look at how employee wages and benefits and other work-related issues impact the budget.
Why take this stroll down memory lane?
We want the Youngstown City School District to follow suit and throw open the doors to the upcoming labor talks.
We’re especially interested in the negotiations between the administration and the Youngstown Education Association.
Why? Because the YEA has filed a slew of grievances and unfair labor practice complaints since Krish Mohip was hired in 2016 to serve as the first chief executive officer of a public school system in Ohio.
The CEO position is one of the key components of House Bill 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, which was enacted to save failing school districts like Youngstown from total academic collapse.
The other important component in the law is the special academic distress commission that oversees the school district in place of the elected board of education. The board now serves in an advisory capacity.
The Youngstown School District Academic Distress Commission hired Mohip, who came from the public school system in Chicago. As chief executive officer, he has sweeping powers, which is a major point of contention for the teachers union.
The YEA, along with the Ohio Education Association and the Youngstown Board of Education, have tried to derail Mohip in the courts, in grievance hearings and before the State Employment Relations Board.
Last year, SERB dismissed a complaint filed by the YEA and ruled that the CEO has “carte blanche” in managing the academically challenged system.
But that did not dissuade the union from filing another complaint against Mohip, this one for awarding new teachers a $5,000 signing bonus.
Given the labor group’s seeming virulent opposition to Mohip, and by extension to the Youngstown Plan, this year’s contract negotiations will be the most important in the recent history of the urban school district.
The talks won’t be just about money, although the teachers union can be expected to play hardball simply to flex its muscle.
The YEA will be getting advice from the OEA, which is bound and determined to roll back House Bill 70.
Residents of Youngstown have a right to attend the labor negotiations and to hear the demands from the teachers and the offers put on the table by the administration.
To set the stage for the forthcoming talks, consider this: The YEA has filed 14 challenges since August 2017.
That certainly is a record and reflects the attitude of the union.
The submission of the complaint against Mohip for proposing signing bonuses to attract the best and the brightest teachers speaks volumes.
Does the YEA not want the city’s children to receive quality education?
That question may well be raised during the labor negotiations, which is why we are keen on openness.
As we’ve said on numerous occasions in this space, the Youngstown school district is running out of time to turn its academic fortunes around.
If the battles being waged by the union, the OEA and the school board undermine the progress that should be made, the state of Ohio will step in and take control of the district.