New union remains a hot topic

Published 8:58 am Sunday, October 29, 2017

City may consult with labor relations firm

A recent agreement between the Ironton Municipal Court and its employees to unionize continues to be a hot topic at Thursday night’s Ironton City Council meeting.

In September, Ironton Municipal Court Judge Clark Collins Jr. allowed the court employees to form a union, AFSME 771-3. The council’s legal council said that under Ohio law, court employees are one of the groups that cannot demand collective bargaining but the  employer, the judge, can collectively bargain with the employees.

J.T. Holt, an Ironton attorney, brought several pages of Ohio Revised Code and Ironton City Ordinances that he said showed court employees are not allowed to unionize.

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“I believe it is an invalid contract for multiple reasons,” Holt said. “Generally, we had a branch of city government negotiating, unilaterally and binding. I feel this development puts city council and the General Fund in a precarious situation moving forward.”

One of the statutes Holt cited was ORC 1901.32 and 1901.33, which states the court hires the staff and that city council pays the staff out of the General Fund.

He then cited Ironton Code 2.01 that states all legislative power is vested in the City Council.

“So what we have here is a judge, who is one branch of the city government, negotiating where the city council should be at the table,” Holt said. “City Council should have the right to prescribe what the staff is paid.”

He then cited that the Ironton mayor is to execute all the contracts for the city and added that the contract between the court and the city is not a valid contract until the mayor signs it.

“It is not a valid contract because the court cannot tell you (the city council) how much you have to pay all court employees, except for bailiffs or the clerk,” Holt said, adding that the creation of a new union caused alienation with the other city union that represents over 100 employees. “This is binding the city from  moving forward.”

Councilman Jim Tordiff said that council has not implemented the raises for the court employees.

“At least speaking for myself, and I think speaking for all seven councilmen, we were very disheartened that there was no communication between the judge and the mayor, or the judge and council, in any action taken,” Tordiff said. “So, I agree with you, there are a lot of unanswered questions and we are speaking with our legal counsel.”

Councilman Bob Cleary said he had done a lot of research on the matter of the municipal court having a union, and has had many conversations with the other council members on it.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” he said, adding that negotiating with the city unions is always tough and that adding a fourth one that is “kind of dictating to us” is not helpful.

He said that the contract was not a court order, but a negotiated contract, so “I think there is a big difference between court ordering salaries and a full-blown AFSCME contract. And I think we all have problems with that and that is why we haven’t moved forward on that, except to get a legal opinion.”

The city is considering hiring an outside law firm to look into the matter of the legality of the contract because the city legal counsel cannot file a lawsuit in the matter because it would in essence be the city suing itself.

The city’s counsel for the most part just provides legal opinions.

Mayor Katrina Keith said she is trying to get into contact with Bricker and Eckler, a Columbus law firm that specializes in labor consulting, to get a legal opinion on the municipal court employees contract.

“I hope it doesn’t get to a lawsuit,” Cleary said. “I hope it gets resolved with expert opinions and we can move forward with the right answers.”

In other matters, Keith said that they have talked to the EPA on Thursday and that they should hear back from them soon about modifications the sewer and stormwater line separation.

“We felt that it was very favorable that there could be a possibility that modifications will happen,” she said. The modifications that the city is asking for include temporarily taking down a wall on the north end of town that residents think is causing flooding to basements, and to not put up walls at Mastin Street or Orchard Street until all work is completed and they have a monitoring period.

They will meet every two weeks until the matter is settled.

In matters on the agenda, an ordinance for a new contract with the Ironton Police Department just got first reading because there were only four council members present.

It was an emergency measure and there weren’t enough members present to suspend the rules for a second and third reading and then vote on the matter.

An ordinance to raise the height of advertising signs along the highway and the Ironton-Russell Bridge to 35 feet had a third reading and was passed with four “yes” votes.

City council meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month on the third floor of the Ironton City Center.