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City, firefighters union bicker over civil suit

YOUNGSTOWN — The city contends the firefighters union shouldn’t be permitted to intervene in a civil lawsuit filed by a state board seeking an injunction to stop Youngstown from reducing the number of battalion chiefs.

It also argues in a Monday filing that the State Employment Relations Board, which filed the lawsuit Dec. 18 against the city, isn’t entitled to seek an injunction in this matter.

In the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court filing, Jeffrey Moliterno, the city’s senior assistant law director, wrote the union’s request to intervene should be denied because its filing was “procedurally deficient as it does not contain a pleading of any form.”

Moliterno wrote: “Although the union has supported its memorandum with arguments for why it should be entitled to intervene, it has not set forth its claim or defense for which intervention is sought. Thus, the union’s motion to intervene must (be) denied. This is particularly so because of the very tight briefing schedule in this matter.”

Magistrate Dominic J. DeLaurentis Jr. wrote in a Dec. 23 motion that he would decide by next Monday whether to allow the union to intervene in the lawsuit against the city by the SERB. He also wrote that he would decide Jan. 21 whether to grant an injunction by SERB to stop the city from reducing the number of battalion fire chiefs from six to three.

Moliterno wrote the request should be rejected because state law only permits SERB “to seek injunctive relief on its own behalf, not on behalf of other parties.”

SERB filed a civil lawsuit Dec. 18 against the city to stop it from cutting the number of battalion chiefs in the fire department from six to three through attrition. SERB is seeking a temporary restraining order and an “injunction returning the (firefighters) union and city of Youngstown to the status quo as it existed prior to the alleged illegal acts of the city of Youngstown in eliminating” the positions.

SERB contends the city “committed unfair labor practices” and the reduction is Youngstown “retaliating against the union for filing a grievance on the issue of the city’s refusal to provide safe radio equipment.”

The union sought to intervene in the case Dec. 20. That motion, filed by Brooks W. Boron, the union’s Cleveland-based attorney, stated: “SERB does not possess the first-hand knowledge necessary to fully articulate the safety concerns that will result from the city’s abolishment of battalion chief positions. Only the union has the necessary information to be able to respond to the city’s arguments regarding the safety implications for both the firefighters and the citizens of Youngstown.”

Moliterno countered in the Monday filing that the claim was “a red herring. The underlying ULP (unfair labor practice) complaint serving as the basis of SERB’s petition for injunctive relief is based upon a claim of retaliation. Although the city is eliminating battalion chiefs, the ULP and the motion for injunctive relief makes no claim that the city has endangered bargaining unit members or the community at large. Therefore, the union is attempting to bring safety concerns in through the back door when safety concerns are not even raised in SERB’s ULP complaint.”

SERB is the state agency that administers and enforces Ohio’s public employees collective bargaining laws.

The firefighter union has complained for more than two years about problems with the radio system and the need to upgrade it. The two sides resolved the issue Dec. 5, a few days before the issue was to be heard by an arbitrator. The city agreed to upgrade the equipment — the estimated cost is $285,000 — with the work to be done in late 2020.

UNFAIR PRACTICES?

SERB ruled Oct. 31 “that probable cause existed to believe that the city had committed or was committing unfair labor practices” by retaliating against the union getting the radio upgrades when it decided to reduce battalion chiefs. SERB had a Dec. 16 special meeting in which its members voted to seek the preliminary injunction and filed the court document two days later.

City council, at the recommendation of the administration, voted Nov. 13 to reduce the number of battalion chiefs from six to three through attrition. One battalion chief, Gary Ditullio, retired Dec. 3. The city’s board of control today will consider a $43,216.20 severance payment to him for unused sick and vacation time. A second battalion chief is expected to retire in about 12 to 18 months and it’s unknown when a third would leave.

Firefighter union officials have expressed concern about the decision saying it puts firefighters at risk as the second battalion chief at a fire serves as the safety officer, judging the layout of the scene and handling communications between firefighters and dispatch, which is an issue because of the flawed radio system.

The mayor has said fire captains and lieutenants would be trained to be safety officers.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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