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Law firm s role in Toledo's contract talks draws criticism

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    Danielle Kasprzak brings up the rear of a line of Toledo Police Patrolman s Association members as they try unsuccessfully to meet with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on May 18 at Government Center

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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With Toledo facing its worst financial crisis in decades, 75 police officers laid off, and a budget deficit that grows by $100,000 a day, the deadlocked labor talks between the city and its police union could hold the key to Toledo s solving its financial problems or falling further into decline.

Always considered the most militant union representing city workers, the Toledo Police Patrolman s Association and its longtime legal counsel the firm of Kalniz, Iorio & Feldstein have refused to agree to the wage and benefit concessions Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says are needed to stave off municipal bankruptcy.

Both sides blame the other for dragging out negotiations for months, but people in and out of city government heap blame for the delay on the union s lawyers.

City officials sat eye-to-eye with numerous police union negotiators for decades, but for 29 years, one name always had a seat at the bargaining table: Iorio.

Longtime Toledo labor lawyer Ted Iorio, 65, who got his start as a law student advocating for migrant farmers, played a key role for years in the often contentious contest between city labor unions and numerous mayoral administrations.


Danielle Kasprzak brings up the rear of a line of Toledo Police Patrolman s Association members as they try unsuccessfully to meet with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on May 18 at Government Center

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

He has represented the patrolman s union since 1980, after a municipal workers strike that crippled the city the previous year. Now his son Donato is at the negotiating table for the 406-member police union facing down city officials and taking the city to the brink again.

Mayor Finkbeiner s layoff of 75 police officers on May 1 was followed by a series of homicides, including the killing of an 88-year-old North Toledoan who was a Toledo police officer s mother.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he was forced to furlough police because of a budget deficit now pegged at $12.5 million and because, according to the mayor, the police union refused to make wage and benefit concessions.

Guarded comments

Ted Iorio is described as a stubborn, tenacious advocate for the unions he represents, and a screamer. Donato Iorio is described as arrogant and surly.

It is a lawyer s job to be overbearing until it s not in the best interest of his client, said a long-time observer of the local labor-management scene.

[Donato] Iorio is not experienced enough to know that sometimes your client can t afford for you to win.

The Blade interviewed more than 40 people for this story, including more than a dozen police officers and as many local lawyers, but almost all said they didn t want their names attached to their comments.

Labor and management lawyers were loath to criticize another attorney, saying it would breach their legal code of ethics. And city officials said they didn t want to make negotiations with the police union more difficult than they already are.

But one source confirmed that Donato Iorio is running the show at the police union, with others saying the basis for police negotiations having dragged on for months while the city s financial situation deteriorates is a longtime Iorio strategy not to settle and to prolong negotiations as long as possible.

[Donato Iorio] is the most obnoxious person I have ever met, said someone close to the current labor talks. He cuts people off. He asks them questions and cuts them off before they finish.

The younger Mr. Iorio clearly is driving the negotiations for police. He has total control, the source said.

Donato Iorio, 36, a 1997 graduate of the Wake Forest University college of law, last week discounted such talk and said the city is the problem, not the union.

He said he is not difficult to work with and rejected characterizations of himself as overly aggressive, let alone arrogant, surly, or obnoxious.

A big teddy bear

I think I am a big teddy bear, he said. I m not dictatorial. I can t dictate anything to the city; otherwise we would have an agreement already.

Ted Iorio told The Blade that he considers his representation of labor unions part of his mission to represent the working class.

He said aggressive tactics are sometimes needed in labor negotiations. I don t know how you define aggressive, but if it s [that] we do the job we are supposed to do, then yes.

If you look at the history of our relationship with the city of Toledo, we think it s been extremely good. We have never had to go to binding arbitration.

He added: If the charge is we are too aggressive, that s not in our playbook. We try to reach a mutually understandable agreement and move on.

But even though the Iorio law firm s tactics have been highly successful for police and fire unions, has that success been too costly for Toledo taxpayers?

When the 0.75 percent income tax increase first went into effect in 1983, the revenue from the city s total 2.25 percent income tax covered police and fire operations as well as refuse collections, with money left over for other general fund expenses.

This year, income tax receipts cover police operations and only about half of fire operations.

Mayor Finkbeiner last week publicly criticized the police union s strategy as one of trying to negotiate in the media and the reason negotiations haven t concluded.

The Finkbeiner administration hints that TPPA President Dan Wagner and the Iorios have not kept the public good at heart. The union and its lawyers say the same about Mr. Finkbeiner.

Each side blames the other for wasted time.

I think the record speaks for itself, the younger Mr. Iorio said. The bargaining units police and fire have asked for over a year to negotiate, and the city has rebuffed them time and time again.

Mr. Wagner declined to comment for this story.

The union and the city met for a fourth session on Tuesday in a fact-finding session with a mediator who was called in to attempt to reach a settlement. The two sides left without an agreement.

Although talks with the police union have stalled, the city has reached agreement with its largest union, Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, with the union agreeing to a wage freeze and to larger contributions toward pension and insurance costs.

It s time for the city s contentious labor talks to be resolved, said Andy Douglas, a retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice who is also a former member of Toledo City Council and a longtime friend of organized labor.

I grieve for the city

I have kept abreast of the current situation, and I grieve for my city as I see it being torn apart, Mr. Douglas told The Blade Friday. It is my belief that the time is long since passed when the issues between the various parties should be resolved.

It is my judgment that the very survival of the city is at stake.

Ted Iorio said that during his 40-year career, he s seen fact-finders deliver decisions that pleased neither management nor labor.

Lawyers for the Sylvania Township law firm of Kalniz, Iorio & Feldstein have been trying since October, 2008, to reach a new police contract with the city. The last three-year agreement expired Dec. 31.

The law firm, which has six labor lawyers, also represents Toledo Firefighters Local 92, the Detroit Police Officers Association, and the Ohio Education Association.

The law firm also has been the longtime counsel for some of the unions representing The Blade s unionized employees.

Very much in charge

An attorney who has represented private-sector management in contract talks against the elder Mr. Iorio said, When Ted was involved directly, he was very much in charge.

He was on the point as we say, and communications were always through him with the apparent support of his committee, said the lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous.

Others were complimentary of the Iorios.

Ted Rowen, a lawyer with the Toledo law firm of Spengler Nathanson, said the elder Mr. Iorio is always a straightforward guy who represents his clients well.

Mr. Rowen also said the elder Mr. Iorio is not the type of attorney to drive negotiations.

He tries to achieve [his clients ] goals, and I don t think he is the kind of guy, in my dealings with him, who will push clients to do something he thinks is right as opposed to what the client wants, he said.

The current negotiations are unlike any since the police strike of 1979.

Since then, a string of city administrations has bowed to the police unions, granting them pay raises and increasingly expensive benefits that Mr. Finkbeiner says the city no longer can afford.

With city income tax revenues tanking along with the national economy, Toledo is still facing a $12.5 million deficit for 2009 even after laying off 75 officers and dozens of other city employees.

The mayor and his top staff have taken pay cuts, and many city workers have been ordered to take unpaid furloughs, but the police union members refused to accept a one-year 10 percent wage cut and to begin paying into their pension and start paying for part of their health-insurance costs.

Both the Iorios say Mr. Finkbeiner is being unreasonable.

We consider representing police and fire the highest honor because they are making the streets safe for us and running into burning buildings when the rest of us are running out, said Donato Iorio.

We are now dealing with an administration that s overreaching, and the city has been in worse financial condition than it is now, he said. It s disappointing that the administration doesn t respect the badge, because if the mayor doesn t respect the badge and police officers, how is some 14-year-old kid going to?

Issue is never personal

Mr. Finkbeiner, who has been at odds with the union s president, Mr. Wagner, over contract talks, rejected Mr. Iorio s claim.

The issue is never personal between professionals. We have an immense respect for the men and women who choose to be public safety officers, the mayor said. [The younger] Mr. Iorio and Mr. Wagner insist upon making the issue personal when it is a professional matter involving a lack of money in the city coffers, losing $100,000 a day.

The mayor said the issue at hand is balancing the city of Toledo s budget in the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression.

Mr. Finkbeiner and city finance officials say the city s revenue picture is not improving, with auto factory shutdowns expected to cause tax revenues to drop by the end of the year even more than projected. They say city union leaders need to realize that wage and benefit cuts are required at least temporarily to eliminate the deficit and to avoid more police layoffs.

2 new grants

However, Police Chief Michael Navarre told Toledo City Council Tuesday that the administration could recall more than a third of the 75 laid-off officers by using $891,931 from two new grants and a contribution from the Toledo Public and Washington Local school districts.

The money would pay the salaries of the 29 officers only through the end of the year.

Last week, Mr. Finkbeiner lowered from $15 million to $12.5 million his estimate of the deficit remaining in 2009, based on refinement of the numbers. However, the mayor said the concessions he is seeking from police and fire unions and Toledo Municipal Court employees would lower the deficit by only $5.7 million now because negotiations have dragged past the halfway mark in the city s budget year.

To eliminate the deficit, he said, labor negotiations have to step up, and council needs to approve measures to raise more cash cutting the 100 percent tax credit given to Toledo residents who work and pay taxes in another city, raising the city s trash-pickup fee, and shifting money from the capital improvements fund to the operating budget.

The police union for months has balked at concessions, accusing the city of low-balling its revenue forecasts.

In 1975, Mr. Iorio was among the founders of the former powerhouse labor law firm of Gallon, Kalniz & Iorio. It remained a major firm for unions until 1991, when Mr. Iorio and Burton Kalniz departed and formed their own firm along with Jay Feldstein.

The elder Mr. Iorio has always been on the union s side of the bargaining table.

Management has tried to hire him, but he s never accepted.

Former police union President Gary Dunn, who left office in 1981, said he hired Ted Iorio after the 1979 strike partly to help unite city workers.

After we talked to him it made sense since we were joining forces with the firefighters, Mr. Dunn said. Ted was always at the table. It was expensive, but I guess that s what you do.

Mr. Dunn said he understands the police officers reluctance to accept concessions and 75 layoffs.

I suppose at some point in time they have to make a stand, he said. That s what we did back in the 70s. You have to understand cops and know that they are not built to back down.

Change through turmoil

The history of the patrolman s union is marked by defiance.

Formed in 1966 as the Patrolman s Benevolent Association, within three years it pulled out of the newly created Municipal Employees Labor Council because of objections to affiliation with the Teamsters union.

The Patrolman s Benevolent Associated changed to the Toledo Police Patrolman s Association in 1970 and joined the International Conference of Police Associations that same year. The group was considered a militant organization and advocated the right to strike.

Nine years later, the union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Ted Iorio said the labor turmoil in the early 1970s in Dayton and Toledo is why the state legislature approved a new law banning strikes by police and fire unions and other safety forces and creating a fact-finding and arbitration process in Ohio.

The process of fact-finding and arbitration is gruesome. It s a lot of work, and you are throwing your fates to the wind, Mr. Iorio said. It s unknown, and you might catch an arbitrator who doesn t have a lot of experience.

Historical perspectives

Donna Owens, who was mayor from 1983 to 1989, said the Iorio law firm did a good job representing the police and fire unions during her tenure.

I believe Ted is a very good attorney, and I think he is good to work with, she said. When I was in municipal government and also when I was at state government, I think he was a good representative, and I think he does his job just as the city does its job.

Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, who was patrolman s union president for 10 years ending in 1999, said the Iorios were a valuable asset during his negotiations with Mr. Finkbeiner during his first two terms in office and with former Mayor John McHugh.

He doesn t think the fact-finder will return with a report granting the city everything it wants from the patrolman s union.

If the city of Toledo achieved everything they wanted, the police in the city of Toledo would be the lowest-paid of any city of comparable size, he said.

Mr. Collins blamed the Finkbeiner administration for letting the police negotiations drag on because it could have compelled fact-finding in December.

That responsibility was compounded by allowing them to continue this process clear into the middle of June, he said. Clearly when you are in a union and you know that concessions are the reality there is absolutely no motivation to get to the table to leave with less on your plate than when you sat down.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:imessina@theblade.comor 419-724-6171.

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