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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2008

Labor-business group gets 2-month reprieve

A local consortium of labor and business representatives that has worked as mediators in labor disputes for more than 60 years has received a stay of execution for two months while supporters look for funding to keep it operating.

The Labor-Management-Citizens Committee's executive committee voted to disband the organization Tuesday after its funding was slashed in half by the city of Toledo.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, a member of the United Auto Workers and labor advocate, said the University of Toledo has agreed to pay the salary of director Marty Fitts for 60 days.

That will give him time to find enough funding for the organization - most of which goes into Mr. Fitts' $77,310 annual salary and benefits.

"We will try to raise the money for the rest of the year," Mr. Gerken said. "The gap was about $63,000 I will appeal to local businesses and people who have used the service in the past and found it valuable."

He said the "county will absolutely make sure the LMC remains through the end of the year," if after 60 days there is still a funding gap.

"We want to have a strong conversation on what we do for next year," Mr. Gerken said.

The LMC voted to disband after the city of Toledo, its only funder, reduced its budget from $113,000 to $50,000 earlier this year, Mr. Fitts said.

Founded in 1946, the LMC includes representatives from businesses, labor unions, and other members of the public.

Thomas Gutteridge, dean of UT's college of business

administration, said he does not want to see the LMC discontinued.

"I am a labor arbitrator myself and we are part of the community. We understand the service the LMC has provided," Mr. Gutteridge said.

"It serves a vital function and Marty Fitts does an excellent job. To cut him off at the knees at this point in time serves no useful end."

Toledo City Council cut the funding for the LMC in 2007 to $70,000, but Councilman Frank Szollosi introduced an ordinance to give it an extra $43,000.

The LMC is made up of labor, management, and neutral participants who work in three-person teams to resolve grievances and run union elections. It is staffed by Mr. Fitts at UT.

The city this year also cut its funding for the Lucas County Improvement Corp.

"I agree with Commissioner Gerken that we need to find a way to keep this organization going," Commissioner Ben Konop said.

"My initial thought would be to take some funding we allocated to the LCIC and offer that to the labor council. Frankly, I think we have wasted $1 million on the LCIC with little results and this organization has a ton of results."

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, could not be reached for comment.

- Ignazio Messina



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