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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2003

Union appeals closing of Lima's state prison

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS - The union representing employees of Lima Correctional Institution has asked Franklin County Common Pleas Court to overturn a recent arbitration ruling that said the planned closing is not a negotiable contract issue.

The appeal filed on Friday argues that the cash-strapped state, which ended the fiscal year on June 30 with a unexpected $180 million surplus, was not honest with the arbitrator about its financial situation.

“We're certainly struggling to believe in good faith that, after all the papers were filed and arguments were made, suddenly they say, “Oops, we were off by $180 million,” said Peter Wray, spokesman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. “It was awfully convenient.”

Gov. Bob Taft said he expects a separate court dispute over whether he has the authority to order such closings without legislative approval ultimately will make its way to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The closing of the medium-security prison, a converted former institution for the criminally insane, will displace nearly 500 employees. The arbitrator determined that the closing decision was an economic one and was not related to contract issues such as wages, hours, or employment conditions.

The state's recently enacted two-year budget banks on an estimated $25 million annual savings from the closing, now more than a month overdue as a result of the litigation.

The union responded to the arbitrator's decision by filing a lawsuit in Allen County Common Pleas Court challenging the governor's authority to unilaterally order such closings. Both sides are awaiting a ruling.

“If it's adverse to us at the trial level, it will certainly go all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Mr. Taft. “It's a very fundamental question being raised in this lawsuit; so it needs to be addressed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

“I think we have a right to close a prison that we really don't need to accommodate our prison population to save the $25 million on behalf of taxpayers,” he said. “We'll address that issue if and when it should arise.”



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