Athens County Commissioners Raise Concerns About Labor Contract

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Action on a labor contract for the Athens County Sheriff's Office was further delayed by the county commissioners Tuesday.

The proposed three-year contact, which covers the office's lieutenants and captain, was sent to the commissioners for approval about three weeks ago by Sheriff Patrick Kelly. They tabled it then, saying they wanted to meet with Kelly to discuss contract changes that are included in the tentative agreement.

Lt. Aaron Maynard, who represents the department's supervisors, and Kelly attended the commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

Commission President Lenny Eliason asked a series of questions about proposed changes the tentative agreement would make to the current contract. After the meeting, Eliason said his main concern is a new provision relating to layoffs.

The proposed contract contains this added language: "The employer will only lay off bargaining unit employees and/or abolish positions in the bargaining unit for reasons of economy and/or efficiency including a reorganization for more efficiency. Bargaining unit employees may not be laid off and/or have their position abolished for arbitrary or capricious reasons."

Eliason said he is concerned the added language could "handcuff" a future sheriff if, for example, that sheriff wanted to reorganize the department to add the rank of sergeant. He said the sheriff would have to be able to show it was being done for economy and/or efficiency. If a change in the department was contested, a third party could end up deciding whether the change improved efficiency, Eliason said.

"It's unnecessary to the contract, in my view," Eliason said.

A version of the new wording was proposed by the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing lieutenants and the office's captain. (The proposed contract also covers sergeants, but the sheriff's office currently does not have that rank.)

Kelly said he supports the change because he wants to protect the current lieutenants in case a future sheriff wants to get rid of them.

Also, Kelly said if a grievance is filed regarding an action taken by the sheriff it would likely end up going to arbitration — a third party — anyway.

"That's nothing new," Kelly said after the meeting.

Maynard said that he believes, based on discussions with the union's attorney, that the language is consistent with state law. He said the final language that appears in the contract was worked out by the union attorney and the labor attorney of the sheriff's office.

Asked if his concern was sufficient to cause him to vote against the contract, Eliason said he hadn't decided. He said he wants to discuss the matter with the commissioners' labor attorney.

Eliason said he does not have a problem with the wording which says that layoffs or elimination of positions can't be "arbitrary or capricious."

After the discussion about the contract Tuesday, Maynard asked the commissioners if they were going to vote on the contract at the meeting.

Commissioners Charlie Adkins said he wasn't prepared to vote on it because he wants to figure out how much the contract would cost the county. The proposed contract does not include a wage scale, but sets salaries for supervisors based on the wage scale of regular deputies, who have a separate contract.