November 25, 2014

Elyria
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State Senate to consider union issue

COLUMBUS – Several Republican state senators are troubled by a provision in the House-approved budget bill that would allow Ohio court workers to form employee unions, a spokeswoman for the GOP-led Senate said Friday.

But it`s unclear what action the Senate will take on the issue over the next few days, said Maggie Ostrowski, spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Harris.

Currently, court employees across Ohio can collectively bargain only if they first obtain a waiver from local judges. Courts have functioned very well without collective bargaining, Ohio Supreme Court spokeswoman Chris Davey said.

“They`ve done so for decades, and unless someone can demonstrate that the efficiency and effectiveness of our courts would be improved, the chief justice does not believe that this is advisable,” Davey said, referring to Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.

Some local courts in Ohio have unionized without any problems, Davey said.

But the issue arose last year when Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon refused to continue to allow the United Auto Workers to represent court personnel, a dispute that was rooted in budget cuts at the court proposed by county commissioners. She cited the provision in Ohio law that exempts courts from mandatory collective bargaining.

That brought a strong response from Democratic officials and office holders, including 32 state lawmakers who wrote to Cubbon in July urging her to recognize the unit.

“The purpose of this letter is to encourage you to, at the very least, resume good faith negotiations so that court employees achieve a contract with fair wages, competitive benefits and improved working conditions,” the lawmakers wrote.

Last month, Democratic lawmakers – who won control of the House in November – inserted the language in the budget bill allowing court workers to unionize. Other state workers, such as employees of the governor`s office, the Legislature and local boards of elections, would continue to be exempt.

Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland would likely support the provision if it survives the Senate, spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said.

But a number of judges around the state are worried the change would eventually damage the public`s image of the courts as independent from local politics or favoritism, said Mark Schweikert, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, an advocacy and oversight organization for judges.

Fairfield Municipal Court Judge Joyce Campbell agreed. Employees are an extension of the court, and having them belong to a union could create a perception that other union members who appear before the court could get special privileges, she said.