Questions Surround Labor Contract Between County And Sheriff’s Office

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A counter proposal to make changes the Athens County Commissioners would like to see in a proposed labor contract will be suggested to Sheriff Patrick Kelly this week, according to Commission President Lenny Eliason.

“They’re out of time,” Kelly said Friday, adding the contract has already gone into effect because the commissioners did not act on it within 30 days.

Eliason disagreed, saying the deadline doesn’t apply at this stage.

The contract with the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union representing lieutenants and a captain, was distributed to the commissioners on Feb. 12. The commissioners tabled the contract at their meeting on Feb. 18 and said later that they wanted to discuss the proposed contract with the sheriff.

Kelly met with the commissioners on March 4 to seek approval of the three-year contract, but the commissioners did not take action.

At the time, 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 who wanted to reorganize the department. 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.

Kelly said at the March 4 meeting, and repeated Friday, that he supports the new language because it will protect the jobs of his current lieutenants if another sheriff comes into office.

Eliason declined Friday to give specifics of the counter proposal, other than to say it will deal with layoffs and seniority.

“Until we sit down with the sheriff, we won’t know if it’s going to be acceptable (to him) to take it back” to the union, Eliason said.

According to Eliason, the commissioners’ labor attorney has indicated that a deadline that could cause the contract to automatically go into effect would only apply after contract talks went to fact-finding and/or arbitration.

“We prefer to have a negotiated agreement rather than have it go to fact-finding,” Eliason said.

The Messenger contacted Don Collins, general counsel for the State Employment Relations Board, who would not comment on this specific situation.

“I don’t know what the facts are down there,” Collins said Friday. “Generally speaking, you get 30 days” to approve a contract.

In an earlier e-mail, Collins pointed The Messenger to Ohio Revised Code Section 4117.10(B).

“Under that provision, the legislative body has 30 days to take action after the proposed agreement has been submitted to them,” Collins wrote. “If no action is taken to approve or reject the proposed agreement, it is deemed approved.”

A phone message left with an attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was not returned by The Messenger’s news deadline. Kelly, who appeared to be irked the commissioners did not just approve the proposed contract, also had a labor attorney representing him during the contract negotiations.

“We have attorneys work on these contracts, that’s why we hire them …, “ Kelly said. “These three (county commissioners) are not attorneys.”