Court Rules Termination of Union Officers Unlawful



COURT UPHOLDS SERB RULING THAT BUTLER TOWNSHIP

UNLAWFULLY TERMINATED UNION OFFICERS

By

Henry A. Arnett

Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA

1335 Dublin Road, Suite 108-B

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Telephone: 614-224-7771

The Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas has upheld a ruling by the Ohio State Employment Relations Board that Butler Township, located in Montgomery County, Ohio, acted unlawfully when it terminated the employment of a union president and vice-president. The union, Local 4491 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, was certified as the bargaining representative for firefighters and lieutenants employed by the Butler Township Fire Department in May, 2006. Although the Local began negotiating with the Township for a collective bargaining agreement in 2006, by January, 2008, the Local still did not have an agreement with the Township. Throughout the organization process and the ensuing negotiations, the two individuals who served us the Local’s President and Vice-President were the most active and strongest advocates for the Local.

In December, 2007, the Township began an investigation into the alleged downloading of pornography on Township computers by employees of the Fire Department. Although the investigation revealed that the Local President and Vice-President did not download or view pornographic materials, while other employees of the Fire Department did do so, it was the Local President and Vice-President who were terminated. Interestingly enough, the Local President was terminated for supposedly accessing one particular video on her personal laptop computer. While she had accessed this video, the evidence was clear that she did not initially know what was contained in this particular video and accessed it only after numerous requests by other employees that she log onto the video’s web site. Once she saw what the video was about, she closed the site. While she was terminated for this alleged infraction, the evidence showed that numerous other employees (not so involved with the union) actually accessed and viewed the same video, but the Township either took no disciplinary action whatsoever against these employees or administered discipline that was far less severe than termination.

The Local President and Vice-President filed charges of unfair labor practices with the State Employment Relations Board, alleging that their terminations were based upon their union activities. They were represented in those charges by the law firm of Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA. On July 29, 2009, the Administrative Law Judge for SERB issued her opinion, holding that the two Local officers were in fact terminated because of their union activities and ordering that the officers be reinstated to their positions and paid backpay and benefits.

The Township filed exceptions to the decision of the Administrative Law Judge. However, on October 29, 2009, the three members of the Ohio State Employment Relations Board overruled those objections and ruled that the Township had committed unfair labor practices when it terminated the two Local officers.

The Township filed an appeal to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. On March 15, 2010, that Court affirmed SERB’s order, stating that the order was supported by substantial evidence. The Township must now offer reinstatement to the two officers, along with backpay and the restoration of benefits.