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All three Lucas County commissioners yesterday announced their support for the United Auto Workers in its effort to represent county Juvenile Court personnel.
Standing side-by-side with UAW Local 14 President Ray Wood during a news conference, the commissioners urged Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon to recognize the union as the workers' bargaining unit.
"All workers have a fundamental right to unionize," said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners.
The union also responded to suggestions that the contentious negotiations led to acts of vandalism on Judge Cubbon's two family cars.
Mr. Wood claimed suggestions that the union was behind the vandalism were "slanderous."
"We wouldn't do that," Mr. Wood said. "That is a stereotype from the past."
Through a paid advertisement, the UAW is printing an open letter to Lucas County residents in today's issue of The Blade, urging them to call on Judge Cubbon to recognize the union.
The letter claims her denial of union representation was a first in Toledo history.
The judge did not return calls for comment.
According to Ohio law, judges are not required to recognize unions of their employees.
In 2007, Judge Cubbon and then-Judge James Ray agreed to recognize the union after employees voted in favor of representation through a card count.
But negotiations over a contract deteriorated in June. In letters to the commissioners and the union, Judge Cubbon said she feared the proposed wage increases would force her to lay off employees, and asked the commissioners or the union to explain how the contract could be funded.
Commissioner Pete Gerken, a former UAW member and official, replied with a letter asking to meet with the judge.
On June 18, Judge Cubbon wrote a letter to her employees stating that she would be rescinding the UAW's authorization to organize her employees.
Among other issues, she said she feared for her family's safety after two family cars had similar flat tires. In both cases, the tires were flattened by a nail and a screw.
The commissioners scoffed at suggestions that the UAW or its members might have been behind the tire-flattenings.
"That's not the UAW's record in this community," Commissioner Ben Konop said.
In its letter, which also will appear in other publications in the area, the UAW claimed union representation would help employees deal with a "hostile work environment that is tolerated within the court."
As examples, Mr. Wood noted complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination in the court. Two employees resigned in February after allegations of harassment from a female employee.
Earlier this month, an employee of the juvenile detention center sued the Juvenile Court, claiming he was fired for racial reasons.
Mr. Wood said he wanted to work with the court to resolve the situation.
"We're only interested in win-win situations," Mr. Wood said. "We want to be fair to the administration, fair to the community, and fair to the workers."
Although no other divisions of Lucas County Court of Common Pleas have union representation, Mr. Wood noted that the UAW has organized Toledo Municipal Court.
While Mr. Gerken's connections with the UAW go back decades, all three commissioners - as well as Judge Cubbon - have received support from the union in the past.
According to board of elections records, Mr. Konop received $15,000 from the UAW Ohio State Political Action Committee in his 2006 run for commissioner.
In 2004, the UAW Ohio State PAC gave $27,000 to Ms. Wozniak and $77,000 to Mr. Gerken in their re-election campaigns.
In her 2004 bid for the Juvenile Court, Judge Cubbon received $3,000 from the UAW Ohio State PAC.
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