Akron may have achieved labor peace — at least for now.
The city announced Monday that it has reached tentative agreements with its four unions after closed-door, secretive meetings over the past six weeks.
These meetings involved just five people: Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and the four union presidents. They emerged from a final meeting Monday afternoon with an agreement the union presidents think their members will ratify over the next two weeks.
Paul Hlynsky, the president of the police union who has had a combative relationship with Plusquellic, thanked the mayor Monday for his willingness to work with the union presidents.
“It was the union presidents who first approached the city,” Hlynsky said. “The mayor countered with something he thought would meet us halfway. I thank him for it. It’s a deal that I think the members should consider.”
Plusquellic followed suit during Monday’s council meeting, tipping his hat to Hlynsky and the other union leaders.
“I want to thank the union leadership for coming forward for something that makes sense for the citizens of Akron,” he said.
Neither union nor city officials were willing Monday to discuss details of the proposed three-year agreement before it is presented to union members. After the unions’ vote, the agreement will be go to Akron City Council for approval.
A tentative agreement with all four unions at once is a far cry from the labor unrest Akron has had for the past three years, which included impasse, conciliation, fact-finding and concession talks.
The process began over the summer after the presidents of Akron’s four unions — police, fire, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Civil Service Personnel Association (CSPA) — met and decided to approach the city about giving labor peace a chance. They proposed limiting contract talks to a couple of issues, like wages and health care. In that way, they hoped the two sides could reach agreements at the table and avoid the protracted and expensive process of involving a third party.
Mayor ‘major facilitator’
The city was due this fall to start full contract negotiations with its three largest unions — police, fire and AFSCME — and a wage reopener with CSPA.
Patty Ambrose Rubright, the city’s interim personnel director, expressed skepticism in June that the peace plan had a chance. She said wages and health care are the two most difficult issues to resolve and the main reason the sides are unable to reach an agreement without progressing to the state arbitration process.
Rubright credited Plusquellic on Monday for making the tentative agreement possible. She called him the “major facilitator” on the city’s side.
“I think, having been through the blood bath of the former negotiations, it was recognized by all parties that there’s a better way to resolve the differences,” she said.
“This is good news for the city,” she continued. “I think it’s good news for everyone all around. It’s a win-win. I hope the members of the unions listen and ratify this [tentative agreement]. The four unions signed it. That says a lot.”
The presidents of all four unions said Monday that they will recommend that their members approve the agreement.
“I can’t say one way or another what they’re going to do,” said Dan Sladek, president of the 260-member CSPA. “I will be behind it 100 percent. It’s very innovative for the city of Akron to come up with something different. I applaud the city for working with all four unions. It’s tough to have five different organizations work together.”
Presidents to present deal
George Johnson, president of the city’s 470-member AFSCME unit, said it’s “not a perfect deal but it ain’t a bad deal.”
Johnson will present the tentative agreement to his executive committee today and to the membership next week and is hoping to schedule a vote by the end of next week. Hlynsky will meet with his negotiations committee Friday morning and then present the agreement at roll calls that day. His 430 members will vote between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Oct. 10.
Sladek isn’t sure when his union will vote, but said it will be over the next two weeks. Jim Knafel, president of the 325-member fire union, will present the agreement to his members Monday and Tuesday, with a vote the following week. He expects a positive vote.
“I’m optimistic, given the current financial conditions and financial hardships we have all endured, that we will make that ratification vote,” he said.
Johnson is pleased the idea the union leaders hashed out over a few beers actually came to fruition.
“Even though we’ve had our ups and downs with some of the elected officials and some of the administration, we truly felt we had the best interest of Akron and its employees in mind,” he said. “We thought, ‘Why can’t it be achieved?’ So, we went for it.”
The union presidents hope this will be the start of a continued, better relationship between the city and its union leaders, including working together on issues such as trying to restore the local government funding cut by the state.
“We are better working together than against each other,” Johnson said.
“I hope it does bring labor peace,” Hlynsky said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.