AKRON, OH – The Akron police union president came out firing Wednesday after city attorneys slapped him with an unfair labor complaint over comments he made on Facebook and in emails.
The complaint came one day after the city and union met to discuss a potential reorganization of the 400-officer department. Union leaders are miffed that the city held the talks Tuesday, shortly after mailing the complaint.
“This labor complaint changes the game completely,” said Paul Hlynsky, local Fraternal Order of Police president. “At this point, I don’t trust anything that comes out of the Law Department’s mouth. I don’t trust anything that comes out of the mayor’s mouth. Period.
“This is nothing but a cowardly act on the part of the city: Smiling to our faces one minute and then turning around the next day and filing a complaint filled with misinformation.”
In a City Hall news release issued Wednesday afternoon, interim labor relations director Patricia Ambrose Rubright accused Hlynsky and the union of spreading misinformation to officers over a temporary shift schedule.
The shift change, embraced overwhelmingly by officers, has been renewed twice since first implemented last spring after the city extracted union concessions. The agreement expires March 4. The union wants it extended through the end of the year, but has yet to reach an agreement with city lawyers.
The union, according to the city’s labor complaint, is using inflammatory remarks such as “holding officers ransom” and “using them as pawns” on the shift schedule issue. Union leaders contend the city is threatening to take away the shift schedule unless officers agree to work condition changes.
City attorneys say the FOP has used Facebook and emails to tell officers “that the temporary shift change agreement previously negotiated by the city and union is not subject to further negotiation and that the FOP has tainted its members’ opinions about the restructuring of the Akron Police Department prior to even beginning discussions.”
Rubright contends the union is in violation of Ohio’s Collective Bargaining Act.
“Both sides have to play by the rules of the Collective Bargaining Act,” she said in a statement. “The FOP is using all means possible to destroy any talk of change in department operations.”
City attorneys, citing ongoing labor talks, declined to release details of the proposed reorganization.
Hlynsky said he was blindsided by the complaint, which came a day after what he considered to be a cordial meeting about the planned reorganization Tuesday night between the city and union lawyers and police Chief James Nice.
Nice has been working on department changes he said are designed to make better use of the police ranks, which have been depleted by about 20 percent in the past decade.
Plusquellic said during a news conference Tuesday that the plan will include creating an “anti-violence operations unit” and going to a zone command format.
He said the zone command format will involve dividing the city into quadrants, with one person in charge of each quadrant. The necessary personnel will be assigned to address crime in the quadrants, such as responding to burglaries.
Plusquellic said the goal will be to make the department more effective, get crime under control and decrease the amount of crime.
Union attorney Susannah Muskovitz said she believed the informal talk with Nice was “one of the best meetings we have ever had with the city” and that the chief’s proposals “made a lot of sense.”
However, after receiving the labor complaint the next morning, she believes the city harmed talks and sacrificed Nice’s work by filing what she called a “bizarre complaint.”
“I can’t understand it. There is no violation of law. It’s nonsensical. The president of a local union is free to speak to members without any limitations at all. The city has no business judging it or evaluating it.
“I believe the Law Department threw the police chief under the bus. He cares about the police department. He’s trying to work with the union on restructuring and they tossed a monkey wrench into those talks with this action.”
Rubright said the decision to file the complaint was a “collective” agreement among those in City Hall and was based on Hlynsky’s conduct. She said “we could have [but] we did not” choose to tell the union about the complaint prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
She said the labor complaint is open interpretation and it was not the city’s intention to harm the reorganization talks. The idea, she said, was to stifle Hlynsky.
“We want to sit down with the union. We would like very much to work out the issues that are before us, but not do it in the methodology that Paul has chosen to do,” Rubright said. “I think it’s more conducive to negotiating, not in emails, Facebook and the other methods, but rather to do it just like we did it [Tuesday] night.’’
While formal contract talks are not expected to start until later this year, the police union and City Hall have been in continued talks of maintaining a four-days-on, two-days-off work schedule that first went in effect last summer. Previously, officers worked three days before receiving one day off.
The union voted 302-46 last year to approve the schedule in exchange for the city’s request to move 40 officers from various division into patrol from May 23 to Sept. 12. By agreement, the changes have remained in effect. The city is threatening to end the shift change March 4.
In a recent Facebook posting, Hlynsky told FOP members: “I think it is inexcusable that our patrol officers are being used as pawns or as ransom, by taking away a rewarding shift schedule, unless they make concessions.”
Hlynsky said there is no violation of collective bargaining laws. Rather, he said, the city is wrong for “lying to our membership and strong-arming the union into concessions.”
He accused the city of trying to divide the union by spreading misinformation with the intent of creating dissension among the officers.
“Their charges are erroneous, they don’t make sense and we look forward to answering the charges,” he said. “I think all this is because we caught the city lying to our membership. They are trying to strong-arm the union into concession by threatening to take away a favorable work schedule that they love.’’
The complaint goes to the State Employment Relations Board for investigation. The process is expected to take several months.
From The Akron Beacon Journal.