Union leaders react to meeting

STEUBENVILLE – Officials representing the three city unions said Friday plans for a townhall meeting to discuss the need for health care concessions, “may be illegal and an attempt to put union members in a bad picture.”

James Marquis, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, and Rob Cook, the patrolman representative on the F.O.P. Ohio Labor Council, said a townhall meeting being arranged by city officials, “is nothing but a tactic to shame the unions into taking concessions.”

“I have been in contact with the Ohio Labor Council attorney regarding plans for this townhall meeting,” said Marquis.

“We understand the financial position of the city and the union. We know Gov. (John) Kasich has severely cut local government funding. And, we have gone to the bargaining table in good faith every time. We believe there are other people in the city who work part-time who could agree to concessions,” continued Marquis.

“Representatives from Health America will offer what a city similar in size to Steubenville and with union workers is doing with their health care program. Health America will present the benchmarks during the town hall meeting. You have seen the results from our joint health care committee meetings,” City Manager Cathy Davison told the council members during a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night.

“We will invite the public to attend the meeting to learn what we are asking from our unions as far as changes to our health care program. We hope city residents will then put pressure on the city unions to consider our proposed changes,” Davison said.

“The joint health care committee has been working for months and we have gotten no concessions. The health care provider was willing to go to the union meetings to explain the situation, but we got no response,” said Davison.

Marquis said contract negotiations between the police union and the city will start in May, “but the hard battle has started now with the announcement of a townhall meeting. One council member brought up the idea of a wage freeze, but we have been under a wage freeze since June 2009.”

“We are now a bare-bones police department, but crime in the city continues to be on the rise. Ask the elderly couple who had a bullet go through their house last summer when someone was shooting an assault rifle. Drug use in the city is at an all time high. Heroin is at epidemic proportions. The police are working diligently, but our guys are now running into people with assault rifles. This job is not getting any easier,” remarked Marquis.

“Now we will have to attend a townhall meeting to listen to propaganda,” Marquis added.

“I have been the patrolman representative on the Ohio Labor Council since January and during that time I have attended two joint health care meetings. We listened to the city and tried to work out a solution. Now they want to use a townhall meeting to paint us in a bad picture,” stated Cook.

“We have attended council meetings where city employees make suggestions on how to save money. And, except for 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul, the rest of the council just stares at us. I commend Willie Paul for raising the perks of cell phones and gasoline mileage for council members. I wish more council members would consider other ways to save money other than demanding employee concessions,” Marquis said.

“I urge everyone who supports the police, the firefighters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union members to attend the townhall meeting. We will welcome all residents of the city to hear the facts,” declared Marquis.

According to Brian Young, president AFSCME 2015, “The discussions regarding health care coverage and the city’s request for concessions should stay between the three unions and management.”

“We should also be concerned about part-time council members who are receiving the same health coverage that full-time city employees receive. I believe our city leaders should be more concerned about bringing more money into the city and not just looking at employee concessions,” Young said.

“We need to look at why the county is managed by three county commissioners and we need seven council members to run the city. I would also like to compare the city manager’s wages and benefits with other local communities who have a city manager,” urged Young.

Chris Blackburn, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228, said the townhall meeting, “could very well result in an unfair labor practice charge against the city.”

“I feel the decision to take discussions between the city officials and the unions into a public forum may be a violation of the Ohio Revised Code Unfair Labor Practices law. I am not saying the public shouldn’t know what is going on in our city, but the city manager is trying to turn the public against the city’s union employees. She is trying to portray us as an evil union. There are laws in place to stop things like this from happening.”

“Yes, I walked out of the last joint health care committee meeting because I had filed nine grievances because the city manager was violating our minimum manning agreement. I told the city manager that until she started honoring our contract, I couldn’t sit there and listen to demands for health care concessions. Our grievances were settled the very next day. We are willing to talk about our health care. But the city can’t continue to violate our contract and put our residents and our firefighters in danger,” said Blackburn.

“This is a negotiating process. But if the city manager and city council want a townhall meeting, then I hope it is a true townhall meeting with questions and answers and not a lecture session. We have no secrets and we are willing to participate. But we won’t submit to strong arm tactics,” Blackburn stated.

“I have been in contact with our union attorney and with the State Employee Relations Board. We are not in contract negotiations. We are for the public and I am the public as well as a civil servant who has sworn to protect the public. We are willing to help and be heard, but we also want our contract honored,” according to Blackburn.

Third Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf called for the city administration, “to prepare a game plan for the future as soon as possible.”

“We want to save manpower so we need to look at health care. We are looking at a $262,034 deficit this year but in 2014 we are looking at a $2 million deficit and a $4 million deficit in 2015. We really need to look at our future. We need a plan we can look at now,” said Metcalf.

“I am tired of this council being the whipping boy. Ninety percent of our city budget goes to salaries and benefits. That’s 20 percent over the national average. Only 35 percent of our city residents are paying taxes. This city has become a retirement community subsidized by the government. If everyone gave back what this council has given back we could erase our debt,” said 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto during the council Finance Committee meeting.

“In 2010, we were paying $8,500 a year for an employee’s health care coverage. In 2012, that cost was $11,000 for each employee. Everything we do affects the cash flow. We will have to tackle the health care issue,” noted 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich.

“We want to save manpower so we need to look at health care. We are looking at a $262,034 deficit this year but in 2014 we are looking at a $2 million deficit and a $4 million deficit in 2015. We really need to look at our future. We need a plan we can look at now,” said Metcalf.