YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The 7th District Court of Appeals this week affirmed two lower court rulings holding the City of Youngstown in contempt for failing to maintain three battalion chief positions in the fire department and for engaging in an unfair labor practice by eliminating those positions.
In the contempt case, the court in its opinion Monday said the city failed to prove that the trial court in the case abused its discretion by holding the city in contempt.
Appellate Judge Gene Donoifrio wrote the opinion in that case. Also concurring were appellate judges Cheryl Waite and David D’Apolito.
In the other case, the court affirmed a ruling earlier this year by Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney that the city engaged in an unfair labor practice against the city fire department by eliminating three battalion chief positions. That opinion is not yet available.
At issue in the contempt case is an injunction common pleas court Judge John Durkin granted Jan. 21, 2020, ordering the city to keep the positions in the fire department.
The union representing firefighters asked that the positions be maintained as they asked the State Employee Relations Board to label the move an unfair labor practice.
The union filed a motion March 2, 2020, asking the court to hold the city in contempt for failing to comply with Judge Durkin’s order and a common pleas magistrate agreed with the union. Judge Durkin later adopted the magistrate’s decision in June of 2020 and the city appealed.
SERB later found that the city committed an unfair labor practice in getting rid of the battalion chiefs. The city appealed that ruling as well to Judge Sweeney, who upheld the ruling by SERB.
Judge Sweeney said in her ruling she found that the city did take away the positions to deter the union from filing a grievance.
The judge also wrote that she was unconvinced by the city’s arguments that the move was made with financial considerations in mind to “right-size” the department, or to have the right number of personnel for the budget and operations they perform.
The union wants two battalion chiefs per 24-hour shift and to respond to all major fires. One battalion chief acts as the overall scene commander at a fire while the other battalion chief is the safety officer, responsible for monitoring conditions to make sure that firefighters are not endangered.
Firefighters contend that with just one battalion chief at a fire, safety is compromised because an extra set of eyes that focuses solely on safety would be taken away.
The city has yet to restore the battalion chief positions.