The president of Dayton’s police union on Wednesday publicly accused city officials of refusing to come to the negotiating table after announcing a new policy that will require employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly coronavirus testing.
The police union does not oppose vaccinations ― it opposes an emergency order the city manager issued and the city’s position that it does not need to follow Ohio law and collectively bargain changes in conditions and terms of employment, said Jerome Dix, president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police No. Lodge 44.
“We call into question the validity of this order and the true motivation,” Dix said during a public comment portion of Wednesday’s city commission meeting. “Please explain to us how and why there is no other city or county government, nor the state of Ohio, has issued an emergency order.”
Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein told this newspaper that the city’s new policy does not need to go through the bargaining process because it seeks to keep the workplace safe during an emergency.
She previously said she was disappointed that the public safety unions opposed the new policy, especially because some city employees have become very ill or died from the virus.
Last week, the city said it presently had seven employees who were quarantined due to possible COVID-19 exposure and five workers who were unvaccinated test positive.
“It is absolutely imperative, and absolutely within management’s rights, to provide a safe work environment for all of our employees ― all 1,800, their families and the public that we serve,” Dickstein said.
During public comments to the commission on Wednesday, Dix questioned whether the city has a hidden agenda and said he does not think it is coincidental that Mayor Nan Whaley is running for governor.
Dayton’s public safety forces are frustrated that the city manager and human resources director seem to think they are above the law and do not need to negotiate contractual issues in good faith, Dix said.
Requiring employees to get the vaccine or participate in weekly testing for the virus on their own time and using their own money is absolutely a change in work conditions, he said.
He said weekly testing could cost about $75 per test, or $300 per month, or $3,600 per year.
He said the city should pay for the testing if it is genuinely concerned about the health and safety of its workers.
Dix also said that if the city is truly worried about workplace safety then it would require all employees ― vaccinated and unvaccinated ― to get a weekly test, since vaccinated individuals can still catch, carry, transmit and become ill from COVID-19, especially the delta variant.
He said the city is trying to “strongarm” employees into getting vaccinated.
Dix asked city leaders to order Ken Couch, the city’s HR director, to meet with its public safety unions at the bargaining table.
Mayor Whaley did not directly respond to Dix’s remarks during the commission meeting but she made general comments about COVID-19 and its impact on the community.
Credit: Jim Noelker
Credit: Jim Noelker
She said the community is experiencing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” because more than 90% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 aren’t vaccinated.
“I want to just really encourage everyone to continue to push for vaccination,” she said. “It’s very clear it saves your life.”
She said she’s proud of city leadership and their commitment to protect vulnerable community members and encourage vaccination at every opportunity.
“In the face of rising COVID-19 cases, we need to take action to protect our employees and our residents,” Whaley told this newspaper.
Dix said the fire and police unions are seeking an injunction from the Ohio State Employment Relations Board.
The board told the Dayton Daily News it had no record of a complaint as of Wednesday morning.
Kraig Robinson, president of the Dayton Firefighters Local 136, also attended Wednesday’s commission meeting, in solidarity with the police union.
“We’re strong opponents of any type of policy or procedure that violates our contract,” he said.
Robinson said the unions are willing to work with the city on a resolution and have some proposals that could be a fair compromise.
“We’re not fighting a vaccination mandate,” he said. “We’re arguing the fact of misrepresentation by city management to not bargain a change in condition of employment for police and firefighters across the city that affects our livelihood, affects our employment.”
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