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02-14-03: Mercer County deputies seek union
Fourteen employees file request for representation by the SERB

The Daily Standard

    Fourteen Mercer County Sheriff's Office employees have filed a request for union recognition with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB).
    They wish to be represented by the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (OPBA) headquartered in North Royalton.
    The request indicates 26 employees - road deputies, corrections deputies and detectives - would be included in the bargaining unit. Neither administrative personnel nor dispatchers are eligible for inclusion.
    Sheriff Jeff Grey received the request Jan. 22 and posted it in several locations as required by law. An objection letter signed by 18 employees landed on his desk the following day.
    In the brief letter addressed to SERB official Dori McClendon, signees stated "There were several employees in this bargaining unit that were not told of this proposed organization and other employees not completely informed of the process."
    Grey subsequently filed an objection Feb. 4 with SERB based on that letter. No response has been received yet.
    "I was surprised when I received the request for recognition because I had heard nothing about a union," Grey said. "But I was even more surprised when 18 of the 26 eligible employees signed a letter of objection."
    SERB, which meets twice monthly, could approve the request for union recognition, deny the request based on the objection or call for an election.
    In the event of an election, the outcome would be determined by a majority of those casting votes. Approval would pave the way for collective bargaining and a contract running from a minimum of 12 months to a maximum of 36 months. Employees would have to wait 12 months before making another request if the measure is turned down.
    This is not the first time local sheriff's office employees have requested union recognition. They were represented by the United Steelworkers of America from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, when the union was voted down.
    Eighty-three of the 88 county sheriff's offices in the state have unions, including those in Auglaize, Darke, Shelby and Van Wert counties. Additionally, many police departments have union representation including those in Celina, St. Marys, Van Wert and Greenville.
    "My position in all of this is employees need to educate themselves about union representation," Grey said. "If SERB calls for a vote, they need to vote."
    If employees endorse the request, Grey is ready to "hammer out" a fair contract for everyone involved. However, ultimate approval of such a package rests with the Mercer County Commissioners.
    Management and direction of the sheriff's office are among nine items that would not be included in collective bargaining, except as they affect wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment. As public safety employees, deputies are not permitted to strike.
    "This is not an adversarial situation," Grey added. "We have a good group of employees in this office who are committed to serving the citizens of Mercer County. They will continue to do just that whether there is a union or whether there isn't a union."
    An attempt to speak with local union supporters met with no success. Matthew B. Baker, an OPBA representative based in Columbus, told The Daily Standard the names of those signing union request cards remain confidential in accordance with state statute.


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