ELYRIA — The State Employment Relations Board has found probable cause to believe the city of Elyria engaged in unfair labor practices by delaying contract negotiations with its police union earlier this year.
The board ordered the city and Elyria Police Patrolmen’s Association to attempt to mediate the dispute or face a full hearing on whether the city administration engaged in bad-faith bargaining.
The police union had accused Mayor Holly Brinda’s administration of ignoring union requests to begin negotiations on its contract, which expired June 30, so the city could decide what to do with a $3.4 million windfall from the state.
Brinda wanted to avoid using the money, since devoted to bridge repairs and other capital improvements, to give raises to city workers. That was apparent, SERB investigators wrote in a memo detailing their findings, from the minutes of a May 7 Strategic Planning Committee meeting prepared by City Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward.
At the time, the money was “sitting in limbo” and until a decision was made about what to do with the windfall, it could have been the subject of collective bargaining negotiations, SERB wrote.
“If the City has money that is not allocated they said, the union could argue that the City has money available to provide raises to its workers. The Administration is adamant that they do not want this to happen,” Craig wrote in the minutes quoted by SERB. “Rather, the Administration wants that money spent as quickly as possible so that the City workers do not have that to use as an argument to support raises.”
SERB wrote that although the city didn’t violate state law in how it handled the windfall money, it could be inferred from the meeting minutes that “the City’s actions were intended to delay and frustrate the bargaining process.”
The union began requesting information from the city in January and filed a negotiation notice on Feb. 20, SERB wrote. The union argued that subsequent attempts to begin negotiations were met with “stonewalling” and that the city’s attorney, Kenneth Stumphauzer, didn’t get back to the union with meeting dates until June 4, the report said.
Stumphauzer and Brinda did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, but the mayor has previously said the city was negotiating in good faith and that the two sides were in talks to hammer out a new contract.
Brinda also has said that the city was waiting on the results of a state performance audit before beginning negotiations with the police union.
That audit, made public in May, proposed changes that could save the city more than $6.7 million. Among the suggestions from the state were changes to police benefits and hiring some part-time officers to cover manpower shortages, Police union President Tom Baracskai said Thursday that negotiations between the city and the union have reached an “impasse.” He said the two sides are set to meet with a mediator Sept. 3 to try to reach an agreement.
Baracskai said the city turned down an offer from the union to forego raises if the city will re-examine the eight-hour shifts that require officers to work five days a week. He said that low staffing has forced officers to work lengthy overtime shifts and reverting to three 12-hour shifts per week would save the city money and improve officers’ quality of life.
Baracskai said the union was pleased by SERB’s probable cause finding.
“We’re happy to see that someone’s taking our complaints seriously,” he said.