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Published: 4/6/2010

Toledo police union considering a strike

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association said Tuesday night that the union is considering a strike even though it is forbidden under Ohio law.

"We haven't said we are going to strike," Dan Wagner said. "We have just an option we are looking into."

Meanwhile, the Bell administration accused Toledo police officers who called out sick Tuesday in an apparent "blue flu" of engaging in an illegal strike and requested an emergency ruling from the State Employment Relations Board.

According to a letter Tuesday from Toledo Safety Director Shirley Green to Mr. Wagner: "This is to inform you that the city of Toledo considers the obvious work stoppage of TPPA members to be an illegal strike.

"As you know, strikes by public safety personnel are patently and unambiguously illegal," the letter continued. "Please publicly disavow any support, directly or indirectly, of this illegal activity on the part of TPPA members."

Thirty-seven officers, which is about half of the police officers assigned to work the Monday night and early Tuesday morning shift, called in sick out an apparent case of "blue flu," Chief Mike Navarre said. That includes three out of the four on-duty detectives and three members of the SWAT team.

Another 16 officers called out sick Tuesday morning, but two of those were authorized surgeries and two were confirmed illness.

Each of the six officers assigned to the SWAT team scheduled to work noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday called off sick and another 10 patrol officers called out sick for the Tuesday afternoon shift that starts after 2:30 p.m.

The move occurred after union leaders representing the Toledo police patrolmen and command officers walked away frustrated and empty-handed from contract meetings Monday with the Bell administration.

Chief Navarre said he was disappointed and ordered an internal affairs investigation into what he called an "organized effort" to coordinate the blue flu.

"I suspect this has something to do with the disagreement between the [police] union and the [city] administration over the concessions," the chief told The Blade early Tuesday.

He declined to discuss the possible reasons for the blue flu and what evidence has emerged to implicate organizers at a news conference late morning Tuesday.

After Toledo City Council voted last week to declare "exigent circumstances" and force mid-contract concessions on five city unions, the Bell administration committed to continue talks in an effort to avoid expected legal challenges. Talks apparently are over with the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association and Toledo Police Command Officers Association.

"The city wanted us to take cuts more severe than the firefighters did and we walked away from the table," said Mr. Wagner, Monday.

City Council's move to invoke exigent circumstances forces employees to pay 10 percent of their pension contribution and make contributions on health-care costs, based on a sliding salary scale, even though it is not part of their existing contracts.

Firefighters Local 92, which does not include fire battalion chiefs, was spared the exigent circumstances because the union previously agreed to a deal requiring members to pay 3 percentage points of the 10 percent that employees are expected to pay into their state pensions, and to defer overtime pay until March, 2011. Additionally, the concessions will roll back and firefighters would get a refund on the money they paid for their own pension savings if Issue 5 is approved by voters in May.

Passage of Issue 5 would let the city to use all the proceeds of the 0.75 percent temporary income tax for operating expenditures rather than capital improvements.

TPPA was the only other union to vote on that nearly same deal, but the members turned it down while Local 92 overwhelmingly approved it.

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said TPPA wanted to revote on that same deal with the stipulation that the concession would roll back with passage of Issue 5.

"That money is no longer available to the bargaining unions," Mr. Herwat said. "We are not in the same position to make the same agreement."

After lengthy debates on all of the measures that Mr. Bell had proposed to balance the budget, council boosted the trash fee to $15 a month and reduced to 75 percent from 100 percent the tax credit for those residents who work outside the city and pay an income tax to another jurisdiction.

The trash fee will be reduced to $12.50 a month in 2011 under the ordinance council passed.

Mr. Bell promised to reduce the trash fee further this year - especially for senior citizens - and to roll back the tax credit to 100 percent if voters in May approve Issue 5.

VIEW: Letter from Toledo safety director to TPPA president on ‘blue flu'

"To get council to agree to pass the refuse fee, we made an agreement to take that $6 million to $6.25 million and reduce the refuse fee and roll back the tax credit," Mr. Herwat said.

TPCOA President Terry Stewart declined to discuss details of his meeting with Mr. Herwat.

"There was no progress whatsoever," Mr. Stewart said. "We went there looking for some common ground and we couldn't find any. It seems like every suggestion we had, the answer was no."

Mr. Stewart had no comment Tuesday on the blue flu.

Each union has made it clear it wants its contracts honored and the forced givebacks reversed.

TPPA, TPCOA, AFSCME Local 7, and AFSCME Local 2058 filed grievances with the city.



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