The Ohio Secretary of State’s Office under Jon Husted was ordered in late August to give back-pay and raises to Communications Workers of America, Local 4501, union employees totaling $475,000 in a class action pay dispute, but over two months later still has not done so.
Instead, yesterday, Nov. 3, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office made a motion for the arbitrator in the matter to reconsider and clarify his decision.
A copy of the arbitrator’s decision obtained by Plunderbund and dated Aug. 28, reveals that the dispute revolves around raises that were given to 14 non-bargaining employees.
“During the contract term, July 12, 2012 through June 30, 2015, new SOS management of the incoming administration issued pay increases to 14 exempt employees,” the arbitrator summarized the dispute. “The Union contends that these decisions violated (the bargaining unit contract).”
The 14 non-bargaining employees in question received raises ranging from 4.3 percent to 5 percent to 7.7 percent to 12.4 percent, according to the arbitrator’s findings.
Several of these employees went from classified positions to non-classified positions.
The arbitrator, Mitchell B. Goldberg, said he was tasked to decide whether the job changes for each of the designated 14 exempt employees when judged by a reasonable person would amount to promotion.
In several cases, Goldberg indeed found that the new job titles, and increased duties and responsibilities amounted to a promotional opportunity that would be similar to what would have taken place had the employee stayed in the classified service.
In other cases, Goldberg found no documentation indicating the “justification of increased duties and responsibilities” for a raise. Overall, Goldberg found that in nine cases out of the 14, a promotional opportunity was given similar to what would have taken place had the person been in classified service, while in five cases, a raise was given though “no evidence… explaining the reason for… merit pay increase” could be documented.
Goldberg reported believing that union negotiators in their arguments were “trying to achieve some comparative equality or maintenance of compensation equity between the exempt employees and the unit members in terms of continued concessions or future pay increases.”
He said that employer negotiators for the SOS were “thinking along different lines” in that a comparable wage adjustment should not be given to the entire bargaining unit class unless a wage increase had been provided to the entire exempt non-classified class.
Goldberg said that while there is no clear evidence of what expressions were made across the table when contract terms were negotiated in 2009 and again in 2012, “I am confident that the Union’s goal of compensation maintenance and equity between the two groups was clearly conveyed.”
“The unit members had suffered from years of wage freezes and concessions,” he wrote. “I am convinced that they articulated their concerns that the SOS exempt employees suffer the same pain, and that both would equally recover when better economic times came about by receiving comparable wage and benefit increases.”
This, Goldberg said, was evidenced by the Union’s request for increases in 2012, but they were told that “nobody was getting any increase” or words to that effect.
But 14 exempt employees did get an increase.
“The grievance is sustained in part,” Goldberg opined, ordering the SOS pay each bargaining unit member on the payroll on July 1, 2012, an increase in base pay of 5.48 percent retroactive to that date. Again, that decision was handed down Aug. 28 of this year. But these bargaining unit members have not yet received their back-pay or their raises, reportedly only being told by SOS attorneys that a resolution was still being sought.
On Monday, the resolution being sought was revealed to be a request for the arbitrator to reconsider his award.
Assistant Ohio Attorney General Sloan Spalding argued that the award, which she estimated to be $475,000, was “excessive and disproportionate,” and that the arbitrator should “reexamine the opinion and award to ensure that it fairly addresses and provides a proportional remedy to the alleged contractual violation.”
David DeWitt is a journalist and universal minister based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.