COLUMBUS - A state panel yesterday found probable cause that both the city of Toledo and its police union may have engaged in collective bargaining violations as part of their continuing standoff over forced contract concessions.
The dispute is headed for hearings before the three-member State Employment Relations Board. The board authorized the attorney general to ask the Lucas County Common Pleas Court on its behalf for an injunction to halt the city's actions against the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association.
Each side has accused the other of engaging in unfair labor practices. The union has accused the city of unilaterally changing the terms of an existing contract and refusing to bargain in good faith.
The city, in turn, has accused the union of improperly engaging in a "blue flu," by having an unusually large number of its members call off "sick" on April 5 and 6 in apparent protest of the city's move to impose concessions in midcontract.
The board chose to preside over the hearings itself rather than have the cases go before an administrative law judge who then would report to the board.
"It speeds it up," Chairman N. Eugene Brundige said afterward. "If they went before an administrative law judge, the parties would have the opportunity to file exceptions pursuant to the rules. It would take a lot longer."
The board is familiar with many aspects of the dispute, having presided over an emergency hearing last month when the city accused the union of engaging in an illegal strike.
The board found in April the city failed to demonstrate that the apparent partial work stoppage was a "continuous, concerted action" that qualified for the board's emergency intervention. The ruling led to the filing of the city's unfair labor practice charge.
After the union's membership rejected a negotiated package of concessions, City Council invoked "exigent circumstances," citing city budget woes, to force members to pay the 10 percent employees' share of their pension contributions for nine months and to contribute to their medical insurance costs based on a sliding salary scale.
The forced concessions were more severe than what the union had rejected by a vote of 222-198. The union was angry that the city didn't allow it to vote again on the less severe proposal, which was accepted by Local 92 Firefighters.
TPPA attorney Donato Iorio, who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said later the most important aspect of the board's decision was its agreement to seek a court injunction. Common pleas court had refused to grant one, ruling that the dispute belonged before SERB.
"Every day that passes, every minute, the city's liability for back-pay grows and grows," Mr. Iorio said. "TPPA remains willing to meet and try to resolve this issue. We always have the olive branch out."
Donald M. Collins, city labor attorney, and Steve Herwat, city deputy mayor of operations, attended the board meeting, but were not given the opportunity to speak before the board made its preliminary decision.
"We think we have a strong case on exigency," Mr. Collins said after the vote was taken. "The long and short of it is we are running out of money and have to make various decisions."
Telephone prehearings are expected to take place in about a week, and separate full hearings are expected to be scheduled soon afterward.
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