Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Should Ohio unionize court workers?

That's the question that will be before the Ohio legislature, thanks to State Representative Matt Szollosi (D-49th District), who issued the following press release yesterday:

Rep. Szollosi Introduces Bill to Protect Court Workers’ Rights

Legislation Would Allow Collective Bargaining for Court Employees

COLUMBUS – State Representative Matt Szollosi (D-Toledo) introduced legislation today to give specified court employees the ability to enter into collective bargaining.

The legislation would eliminate an exemption from the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Law for “employees and officers of the courts” and “employees of the clerks of courts performing judicial functions.” It was born from a situation at the Lucas County Juvenile Court in which court employees voted to form a bargaining unit, but the Court reversed an initial decision and stopped the employees’ effort to organize.

“We want to enable these court workers to negotiate for better wages, competitive benefits and improved working conditions,” Rep. Szollosi said. “It seems only fair to allow this flexibility for public employees who work so hard to keep the public safe and uphold our laws.”

Rep. Szollosi’s legislation now awaits assignment to a House committee for formal hearings.

SIDE NOTE: As I've said before, if the state law specifically excludes you from collective bargaining, you have no 'right' to it, no matter what Szollosi's press release states. And someone should ask Szollosi about those 'better wages' and 'competitive benefits.' These workers already have wages higher than the private sector in the county, and they are consistent with other courts in the area. Their benefits are the same as all county employees and are extremely generous (including minimal co-pays, coverage of just about all health conditions, prescription drug coverage, vision and dental coverage, and health coaches) and, again, better than what is available in the private sector.

Why is this even an issue? Because, for about a year, the United Auto Workers has been trying to organize our Juvenile Court workers. They'd been given a voluntary recognition by the judges, because they are, under Ohio law, specifically excluded from collective bargaining. Several things went awry during the negotiations, from the interference of a county commissioner to damage to a judge's tires, resulting in the withdrawal of the voluntary recognition and the rejection of any further discussions.

The UAW, furious with the withdrawal of the recognition, began a public campaign. They took out a full-page ad in the paper and began radio commercials to urge citizens to tell Presiding Judge Denise Cubbon to change her mind. This resulted in my effort to encourage the public - and my WSPD listeners - to also call and share their opinion.

Obviously, the public campaign wasn't successful because the UAW, with Szollosi's help, had a bunch of state elected officials sign a petition urging Judge Cubbon to reconsider. As I detailed in my linked post, the UAW is certainly getting a return on its campaign donations.

But despite the urging by all those state reps who've never been to Toledo, the UAW saw no success, as Judge Cubbon has stood her ground.

So what's a union to do? Well, it does what it always does: failing to gain support within the community, or with voters, or - in this case - with the court, they want to change the law. And they have a willing participant in Rep. Matt Szollosi and, I expect, the other signers of the petition.

Did I mention that this is an election year for state representatives?

Having been a Clerk of Court, I'm pretty confident that this proposal will generate objections from across the state, although some of it may be behind the scenes so as not to anger the unions in Ohio. But support of unionization for workers aside, this is bad policy in general and, specifically, a bad reaction to a local problem. And Ohio legislators and citizens should reject this change in law.


Timothy W Higgins said...


I am shocked and appalled that your posting would imply a connection between unions and a Democratic politician. I am further shocked that you would imply that a union would try to circumvent the will of the people by applying pressure to the state legislature to change existing state law. I am finally shocked because of the implication that the UAW would stoop to intimidation, phony ad campaigns, and back door dealings in order to have their own way.

Of course, I am only shocked and appalled that these are implications rather than accusations. Shame on the UAW, on Comm Gerken, and on Rep Szollsi for their parts in this attempt to strong arm Judge Cubbon.

Publius said...

I saw in a recent email that a state, I don't remember which, that does have its court reporters unionized, prevents people in the public from attending a courtroom and taking a transcript of the proceedings.

It seems to me that this would violate an open, transparent government. If a court room is open to the public (and it must be) then so are its proceedings. A transcript should be free for anyone to create regardless of any anti-democratic union contract!

Maggie said...

Publius - that state was California, are you surprised?

In Ohio, you can record the proceedings of anything that happens in the courtroom. The 'official' transcript (for appeals, etc) is the one produced by the court reporter.

There are a few exceptions when the court will rule that the public is excluded, but that is based upon a motion being submitted by one of the parties, a hearing on the issue and then the decision of the judge (sometimes when a minor is involved or when the information being presented could compromise an on-going investigation, for example).

I was shocked when I learned about California's rule...but, again, it is California.

Norma said...

Thanks for keeping us informed. I had no idea!

Publius said...

I have long said that unions have become the enemies of capitalism. They are a localized form of communism.

They are no longer about keeping workers safe from dangerous work conditions; rather they are only about gaining membership so as to fatten the payrolls of the leadership.

On another note, I see someone else has stolen the name that I stole. SHame on him.

Publius @ Law Of Reason

Robin said...

Why do government/court workers need to be unionized?

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