Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Court sends back laid-off workers case
The action was brought against the city by four workers and their union in 2002.
By ED RUNYAN
WARREN Girard's mayor says he's unconcerned about an 11th District Court of Appeals ruling that sends a case back to common pleas court over whether four full-time employees laid off in 2002 should be given their jobs back with back pay.
Mayor James Melfi said a decision by an arbiter in December 2002 does not require the rehiring or back pay. The decision of Judge W. Wyatt McKay of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court last January backs that up, he said even though the judge didn't spell that out in his ruling.
"We were comfortable with the presentation made at common pleas court, and we have no reason to believe it will be overturned," Melfi said.
The case involves the city's using part-time, nonunion workers instead of full-time Girard workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in 2002 when the city was placed under state-imposed fiscal emergency.
After the four workers were furloughed, AFSCME 3356 took the matter to arbitration.
The case was originally filed by Ralph Malloy, Thomas M. Watts, Ashley Algiers and Marvin Sweitzer, who claim to be owed about $330,000. Melfi has said a ruling giving the workers their jobs and back pay would cost the city around $600,000 overall.
The mayor said that he interprets the appeals court ruling as saying that Judge McKay's decision a judgment entry that says only that the case was dismissed failed to give enough reasons for his decision.
Melfi said it was apparent from the remarks the appeals court judges made during oral arguments that they were going to want a more detailed ruling.
The appeals court said Judge McKay's ruling is based on the union's request that the judge cite the city for contempt of court for not using the arbiter's ruling to return the laid-off full-timers to work with back pay.
The appeals court decision, written by Judge William M. O'Neill, noted the arbiter had not specifically ordered the city to reinstate the full-timers but said it believes that was the ruling's intent.
"Contrary to the city's position, the named employees were not 'moot' once they were laid off. Rather the collective bargaining agreement's language provided that they still had rights and standing to pursue their jobs," the ruling says.
Union president's view
Thomas R. Watts, AFSCME Local 3356 president, agrees and said Melfi would be well advised to settle with the four workers from the city's water and street departments before the case goes back to common pleas court for a trial. One of the four is Watts' son.
"He's in a corner," Watts said of Melfi. "He can't win it."
Watts said the four workers are entitled to four years of back pay each and estimated the money owed to the workers totals more than $500,000.
A dissenting opinion written by Judge Diane V. Grendell says her colleagues go to great lengths to construe the arbiter's ruling as requiring Girard to reinstate and reimburse the workers, but she disagrees. If the arbiter had intended for the workers to be rehired with back pay, he or she would have said so, Judge Grendell wrote.