PARMA HEIGHTS, OH — Parma Heights International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 1690 recently filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) related to the city’s attempt to unify pay periods across all departments.
Representing Parma Heights IAFF Local 1690 is Susannah Muskovitz and Arish S. Ali of Muskovitz & Lemmerbrock LLC.
“The city is holding back one week of pay from all of the firefighters for the whole rest of their career,” Muskovitz said. “It’s a 2 percent wage reduction that was not negotiated. The city is in the middle of negotiations (with Local 1690 regarding a new contract).
“The city has every right to propose this at the bargaining table — and in fact they have proposed it at the bargaining table. The union has countered, and there has been a back and forth on the issue.
“That’s normal — and how the process is supposed to work — but then the city one day out of the blue said they’re just going to do it anyway and they unilaterally implemented it. That’s considered bargaining in bad faith,” Muskovtiz said.
Members of Local 1690 are upset that the convoluted change in pay schedule is moving a week’s pay forward to when they retire or leave the city.
Parma Heights Finance Director Katie Iaconis said it’s been misrepresented that firefighters are losing out on a week’s worth of pay.
“It’s all timing,” Iaconis said. “Most people have a work week that stops on a Friday and they get paid the following week. With our prior pay period, (the firefighters) have been paid in advance.
“Now, they’re never going to lose that. They’ll get it on their last paycheck. If they were to retire or go on to other employment, yes, they get it and that’s how normally people are paid,” she said.
“Trust me, I get where they’re coming from. I understand their frustration, but this was something that needed to be done.”
The changing of the pay schedule is designed to help with the efficiency of the Finance Department. Iaconis said the police and fire pension reporting entities requested the change more than a year ago.
The finance director noted that a week’s worth of Parma Heights firefighter payroll is $35,426.
“Unless the city was going to cover a week’s worth of pay and forgive that — which is not really something legally we can do — we’ve come up with the options using time that wouldn’t be paid out until the end (of their tenure with Parma Heights),” Iaconis said.
“They can cash out using vacation, holiday or comp time. So they’re just flip-flopping the time that they feel they’re being shorted. In essence, we’re just allowing them to use time that will get cashed out at a later date, and replacing it with this week. It’s really a one-for-one exchange. They were never going to lose that time that they’re using to make up the check.”
Muskovitz said the city has been talking about unifying the pay periods for roughly a decade. The concept has been discussed during multiple labor contracts.
“I don’t even understand the timing,” Muskovitz said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. These firefighters are very clearly frontline workers answering calls of COVID-19-positive patients, and they’re taking money out of their pockets. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
As far as firefighters being able to swap out the missing funds with comp time, Muskovitz said: “That’s what the city is saying. We want Parma Heights to reverse it and return to the bargaining table and act as they are required to under the law to bargain in good faith.”
The Local 1690 filing also includes a motion to expedite investigation and a notice of appearance.
Muskovitz said the SERB investigation will lead to a probable cause decision, which could result in the issuance of a complaint followed by a scheduled hearing.
“I know that under the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act, when an unfair labor practice charge is filed during contract negotiations, the investigation is supposed to be expedited,” Muskovitz said.
“SERB does do that, so we expect the investigation to be expedited, but I don’t have a timeframe.”