A Montgomery County Common Pleas judge reversed his earlier decision to conduct a public hearing in a labor dispute between union workers and Montgomery County Children Services, instead closing the session.
Judge Richard Skelton filed an order Friday just minutes before a scheduled public hearing, saying that county representatives and union leaders would meet in private instead, as “the parties continue to make efforts to resolve the matter.”
The ruling angered some Professionals Guild of Ohio members at the courthouse, as they chanted, “Support the union,” and, “What’s fair is fair. They don’t care.”
The union went on strike in July, but Skelton ordered them back to work as part of a 60-day injunction sought by Montgomery County Children Services.
A provisional agreement between Children Services and PGO was announced last week, but it fell apart earlier this week, leading both sides to a court-ordered session Friday.
Neither side detailed what happened during the private session Friday.
Union member John Stringer III was part of the vocal group gathered in front of the courthouse making their voices heard. He said that he was disappointed the session was made private, but held out hope that negotiations would result in a successful contract.
“We were all hoping to see how this process works, see what has been taken place up to this point, and when it was made private it was very disappointing to us,” he said. “We are hoping that there will be some progress and we are hoping that a deal will be reached. We don’t want this to go on any longer, and trust me, we don’t want to strike.”
The tentative deal fell apart Tuesday when the county offered written language that “was not what we verbalized or what we (PGO) understood the agreement to be,” said Jane Hay, the union’s local president, who added that she was also hoping the Friday session would remain public.
With no agreement on wages, the local PGO chapter went on strike July 19, leading to Skelton’s temporary restraining order.
Skelton extended the order for 60 days and ordered the two sides to return to negotiations after the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) determined the strike presented a clear and present danger to children.
Attorney Nadia Klarr represents Children Services. She said Friday afternoon that the county would not comment since the session was private.
“Obviously, we are hopeful that both parties will reach a resolution,” she said.
The judge said Friday the 60-day deadline to complete negotiations ends September 21.
Wages have been the major sticking point. In July, Joyce Carter, the county’s director of human resources, said the county offered PGO a 3% percent raise across-the-board, a 1% range adjustment and a $500 lump sum equivalent to approximately an additional 1%.
PGO, representing about 270 child welfare workers who handle abuse and neglect cases for about 2,000 children, first asked for a 6% increase, one consistent with the county’s latest contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Union officials said members had voted against the county’s offer of a 4% increase and any subsequent offers that didn’t go higher.
In a counterclaim in Common Pleas Court, PGO has argued the court lacks jurisdiction and Skelton erred by halting a legal strike by the workers.
Klarr said Friday that following the union’s motion claiming the court lacks jurisdiction, “We will be filing our reply … that will be our next step.”
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