Unions: City ‘not concerned’ with talksWritten by Miranda Everitt | | email@example.com
Toledo police and firefighter unions say they are tired of playing the waiting game.
The Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and Toledo Firefighter Association have been working without a contract since theirs expired Dec. 31.
”We want to let the public know the city’s not concerned about settling the contract,” said Jim Martin, president of the TFFA.
The TPPA had ”Protecting & Serving, 87 Days Without a Contract! Thanks Carty!” posted on its Web site, and the TFFA has ”Always on the frontline, 87 days without a contract” on the billboard outside its Washington Street office March 28.
Union leaders said contracts, which last for three years, are usually discussed and finalized at least a month before their terms end. That didn’t happen this year, in part because of the change in mayoral administration and the replacement of the lawyer who negotiated labor contracts for the city.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Bob Reinbolt, Toledo Police Chief Jack Smith and Fire Chief Mike Bell refused to comment.
The unions negotiate separately. The TPPA has talks scheduled for this week, but the TFFA had not heard anything from the city at press time. Three months into the new Carty Finkbeiner administration, frustrated union leaders are ready to bring in third parties.
Toledo unions, including the TPPA, have worked without contracts before. The difference, Martin and TPPA President Gregg Harris said, is that calls haven’t been returned for months.
”What upsets us most is that it seemed like the city was blowing us off,” Martin said. ”What we’re upset about is that we’re at an impasse.”
”We have been available for negotiations all along,” Harris said. ”Phone calls have gone unanswered. We’ve left messages, sent written correspondence. When you just plain don’t hear back, that’s frustrating for the union and all its members.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city is ”actively working toward completing contracts for the police and firemen. The city cannot legally discuss the details, but is focused on coming to a conclusion that satisfies all parties.”
”January through March we didn’t have any sit-downs with the city,” Martin said. ”They’ve had plenty of time to look and time to say something. After two months of that, we were ready to turn up the heat or go to fact-finding. It’s a slap in the face to every man and woman who works in the department.”
”We’re also prepared to go to fact-finding, if that’s the way they want to push it,” Harris said.
Fact-finding is a negotiation tactic — one side will hire an independent reviewer to look over the situation and render a ”finding of fact,” which is their opinion of what has happened so far and their recommendation for the next step. The police and fire unions, in this case, are each talking with fact-finding organizations to push negotiations along.
”The third party is not going to know the history, so it would be best to have the two parties just sit down,” Harris said. ”But we’ve been ready for five months now. We can’t sit and wait any longer.”
Council is required by law to pass a balanced budget by the end of this week. A
1.5 percent pay raise is built into that budget.
Martin said he believes Councilman Frank Szollosi is setting the negotiation process back by decrying the increase in overtime used by safety forces, and has called for Szollosi’s resignation.
”They’re justifiably frustrated with the process of negotiations,” Szollosi said. ”But in politics people should be civil and people should have thick skins.”
Szollosi said he is only trying to ask tough questions about spending.
”We have to pass a balanced budget, by law, by the end of the week,” Szollosi said. ”It would be disingenuous to support a budget with numbers in it that are factually wrong.”
”We know how budgets are set and there’s room for movement inside the budget to take care of things that need to be taken care of,” Harris said. ”There are ways to adjust.”
Though Martin and Harris declined to discuss the terms the unions are asking for, they did note that the terms of their last contract are well below national standards and what they deserve.
”We’re not asking for the moon, just compensation for the risks we take. Each and every one of us is putting our lives on the line every day,” Martin said. ”Where were they when I was on Central and Mulberry [streets] getting my ass kicked [during last year’s riots]?”