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Published: Thursday, 7/3/2008

Judge boots UAW as court workers' rep; action follows vandalism to cars

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After tires on two of her cars were flattened following the breakdown of negotiations with the UAW, Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon says she no longer will recognize the union as the bargaining unit for juvenile court employees.

Her decision - announced to court workers in a letter dated June 18 - followed weeks of contentious negotiations among the the court, the UAW, and Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, a former UAW official.

The negotiations did not produce a contract, only accusations of intimidation and ill will, according to correspondence among the judge, the union, and Mr. Gerken.

"Since June 3, 2008, it has been upsetting and frustrating to me that the Court's Administrative Staff, the Court's employees and I are spending so much time dispelling inaccurate information. This time would be better spent serving the children and families that we have been elected and hired to serve," Judge Cubbon wrote in her letter to employees. "Based upon these facts and additional information, I have made the decision to withdraw my permission given to the UAW for collective bargaining at Lucas County Juvenile Court."

Judge Cubbon said she feared for the safety of her family after two of her family's cars were found to have flat tires on June 15. Both had been deflated with a nail and a Phillips-head screw in the same way, according to a letter she wrote to the UAW.

Juvenile Court Administrator Dan Pompa said a sheriff's department officer was ordered to guard Judge Cubbon's home after the incident.

Cubbon Cubbon
AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge

The bargaining impasse occurred after both sides agreed to a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase but couldn't agree about the "compression package," or the schedule of raises and other benefits for employees, based on seniority.

Ohio law does not require courts, as well county boards of elections and numerous other state and county offices, to recognize the unions of their employees.

None of the other Lucas County Common Pleas Courts has unionized employees, according to County Administrator Michael Beazley.

In 2006, the UAW announced plans to organize within the judge's courtroom, and the union was recognized by the court in the fall of 2007.

Judge Cubbon, a Democrat, replaced former Juvenile Court Judge James Ray in 2007.

The negotiations stalled in October after the union refused to accept a 2 percent across-the-board salary hike, according to a letter Judge Cubbon wrote to the UAW.

Since October, the union has been in contact with the county commissioners about that aspect of the bargaining contract.

Mr. Gerken took the lead role in the negotiations. A retired auto worker, longtime UAW member, and official, he wrote a letter to Judge Cubbon on June 10, urging her to accept a deal that would give the workers a 2 percent increase.

But Judge Cubbon balked at the deal's compression package, which came with a $641,000 price tag.

"I [have] made it clear that I will not approve the $641,000 wage compression or any financial package which will be funded by layoffs or program cuts," she wrote in a letter to Mr. Beazley on June 4, noting that the commissioners turned down two more funding requests from the juvenile court for the 2008 budget, citing financial concerns.

She said she would not meet with the commissioners until they were able to provide details about the agreement, such as how it would be distributed and whether the county commissioners would help fund it.

Mr. Gerken, in his June 10 letter, said Judge Cubbon's requests were unreasonable.

"Let me make it clear that the information you requested is not information that the UAW has, nor can provide to you," Mr. Gerken wrote. "I have a tremendous respect for your legal expertise and your ability to provide for the best legal outcomes for our youth; in turn, I would hope that you would respect my 30 years experience as a labor negotiator and recognize that this is not how negotiations are carried out."

From then, the negotiations went from bad to worse.

In another letter, Judge Cubbon claimed Mr. Gerken had met with UAW employees on June 11 and "outlandish" statements were made.

On June 13, UAW official Joe Rioux and another UAW member were kicked out of an internal meeting between the judge and employees - a move that prompted a lawsuit from the UAW, which claimed the meeting was a public meeting.

But the vandalism the following weekend was the last straw. Ms. Cubbon then moved to dissolve the UAW's presence in her court.

On June 15, Judge Cubbon filed a police report citing criminal damage to two of her family vehicles and intimidation.

She explained the event in a June 17 letter to Lloyd Mahaffey, Ohio region UAW director.

"This past Sunday, two of my family vehicles had flat tires. Upon examination of the tires, each has a nail and a Phillips-head screw driven into the tire treads in the same manner. My son was driving one of the vehicles on a rural road when the tire went flat," Judge Cubbon wrote in her letter.

"This developing pattern of intimidation, and the direct interruption of Court business in the administration of justice have led me to the conclusion that the relationship between the UAW and Juvenile Court has deteriorated to the extent that I have no choice but to withdraw the UAW's authorization to organize Lucas County Juvenile Court employees."

Even though he was negotiating with his longtime union, Mr. Gerken said he was not biased for or against them while acting as county commissioner.

Mr. Gerken, aside from being a member of the union, was also an officer once, and until two years ago was co-administrator of the UAW DaimlerChrysler Training Center. Mr. Mahaffey endorsed his initial run for the commissioner spot against fellow Democrat Harry Barlos in 1999.

"I don't see the conflict. I'm not negotiating with the element that has a benefit to me. I've never taken a UAW paycheck in my life," he said. "I obviously have relationships on both sides. I think it was probably logical to have some role on it."

Despite Judge Cubbon's actions, Mr. Gerken said he was hopeful that negotiations would continue and that a collective bargaining contract would be reached, but he disputed the claim that the deal would have forced layoffs with the juvenile court. "I don't believe that to be true," Mr. Gerken said.

UAW officials, as well as Judge Cubbon, did not return calls for comment.

Commissioners Ben Konop and Tina Skeldon Wozniak both said they hope the issue will be resolved.

"I think all of those matters are in between those two bodies, and I'd like all of the negotiations to remain in those two groups," Ms. Wozniak said.

Mr. Konop said he hasn't become involved in the dispute but that he supports the UAW's position. "I support the UAW being able to unionize in that shop," Mr. Konop said.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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