CLEVELAND, OH Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration is asking City Council to reject a newly ratified collective bargaining agreement with the Cleveland Firefighters Union because it does not include a longstanding provision that calls for a firefighter’s immediate termination if convicted of domestic violence.
Assistant Safety Director Edward Eckart told council members during a council caucus meeting Monday that the administration was wrong to allow the provision to be struck upon the union’s request during the collective bargaining process.
Eckart said the city’s negotiating team initially felt that the contract contained other policies that gave the administration the power to suspend, demote or terminate an employee for committing domestic violence. But since the union voted to ratify the new contract nearly two weeks ago, the administration has had the chance to “work through the details of the overall agreement” and decided the language was too watered down.
He said the administration has tried to approach the union about revisiting that portion of the contract but has heard no response.
Council has 30 days to vote on the contract, but now is considering legislation that would reject the union contract and send both parties back to the negotiating table. If council votes no on the legislation, the tentative agreement eventually will take effect automatically.
Several council members said they generally support a hard line against domestic violence, but they took issue with the fact that no other union contract in the city includes the zero-tolerance policy. Even police officers, who could no longer carry a firearm under state law if convicted of domestic violence, are not subject to immediate dismissal, per their union contract.
Eckart acknowledged that the city’s firefighters are not more prone to domestic violence than other city workers, and he said that he is unaware of any cases in recent history involving firefighters.
Councilman Jeffrey Johnson said he would like to see Jackson seek a policy that would subject all city workers to immediate termination upon conviction for domestic violence. But it is wrong to single out firefighters — whose relationship with the administration has been acrimonious in recent years, he said.
When Johnson asked why the firefighters are the only ones subject to the strict policy, Eckart reiterated only that the original contract contained the language and it should not have been stripped out.
Councilman Martin Keane said council should stay out of collective bargaining matters — especially when they deal with a tentative contract that has already been ratified –- or risk setting a dangerous precedent.
Councilman Zack Reed said he firmly stands behind the administration on the issue.
“If we don’t reject this contract, we’re saying that firefighters can’t be fired for domestic violence,” Reed said. “I’m not comfortable sending that message out to the community.”