Unions reject partner benefits


The majority of members belonging to three city of Toledo union locals declined to let employees in domestic partnerships receive the same health-insurance benefits extended to spouses of legally married city employees — something that Mayor Mike Bell and city council approved this year.

The Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and two units of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7, in three separate votes, rejected the benefit.

Don Czerniak, Local 7 president, said the employees overwhelmingly disagreed with extending the benefit to unmarried couples — which could have covered both heterosexual and same-sex couples who register as domestic partners.

“We had to bring [it] back to the members and they felt — some of them felt — it wasn’t right,” Mr. Czerniak said. “Even though the mayor and city council have their own personal feelings, each one of the members just didn’t think it was right under their moral ethics or whatever you want to call it.”

Mr. Czerniak said he did not opine on the benefit during the voting, which took place on Sept. 13, according to his letter to the Bell administration.

“The people who came and voted were very boisterous about it,” Mr. Czerniak said. “The feeling was if they are that worried about it — not as much the same sex [couples] — then let them get married and have them be on our health insurance.”

The main Local 7 unit has 900 employees, including street, water, and drainage workers. There is also a 77-member Local 7 911 communications operators unit.

Mr. Czerniak said only three people in the communications operators unit and 14 in the main unit voted in favor. He declined to say how many people voted.

TPPA President Dan Wagner said the majority of police patrolmen did not want to “reopen the union’s contract for Mayor [Mike] Bell.”

The vote was almost 2-1 against, he said.

“We are sick of him invading our contract ... we are sick of opening our contract,” Mr. Wagner said.

He said the domestic partner legislation implied a change to the union’s contract language — an alteration that shouldn’t be made without TPPA’s approval.

TPPA asked that benefits be extended to domestic partners during the union’s last round of contract talks but the city refused to write that into the contract that was eventually written, he said.

“We were denied in the last two rounds of negotiations,” Mr. Wagner said.

“He is throwing this at us after we are asking for it through negotiations.”

Ellen Grachek, human resources director for the city, said the city would not be able to extend the benefits to an employee whose union has rejected it.

Firefighters Local 92, the only city union that manages its own health-insurance fund, also does not extend health benefits to domestic partners.

When city council approved the legislation, it did not require Local 92 to extend those benefits to its members.

Mayor Bell Friday said he was disappointed the three units rejected the benefit.

“I think as a city, we have done what were supposed to do,” Mr. Bell said.

“I am disappointed but we have to respect the rights of the unions.”

Alan Cox, president of AFSCME Local 2058, which represents about 200 administrative and supervisory employees, said his membership voted in favor of the benefit because it was appropriate.

“There may be some increase in health cost but there are so many different ways that could occur,” Mr. Cox said.

“We felt it was in the best interest of everyone and it was appropriate to do this for those who are domestic partners.”

Mr. Cox said it is unknown how many will take advantage of the benefit when it takes effect Nov. 1.

“We believe there are a modest number of heterosexual couples living together ... who would qualify,” he said.

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