Prison workers upset after hazard pay denied

By J Swygart - [email protected]

LIMA — Representatives of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the collective bargaining unit representing corrections officers at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution, are weighing their options after an arbitrator rejected the union’s grievance which alleged the state violated an existing collective bargaining agreement by failing to provide hazard pay for prison workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union filed a grievance on March 12, 2020, claiming the state violated the collective bargaining agreement by failing to pay emergency pay of an additional $8 per hour for all hours worked between July 2020 and December 2021.

The grievance moved to the mediation process on October 29, 2020, without resolution. The legal back-and-forth maneuvering continued for more than two years before arbiter Gregory Szuter issued his ruling earlier this week.

OCSEA President Chris Mabe in a prepared statement said union officials are reviewing all options, including filing a Motion to Vacate in the local common pleas court.

On March 9, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a State of Emergency for what eventually became the Covid-19 pandemic. His executive order came following a similar proclamation issued eight days earlier by the President of the United States declaring a national emergency due to the pandemic. Following DeWine’s executive order, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction unilaterally instituted hazard pay into institutional settings under the Ohio Revised Code, according to the arbitrator in the OCSEA grievance.

Hazard pay as described by the Ohio Revised Code is supplemental pay when a temporary or permanent hazard exists that is not common to the employee’s classification, Szuter said in his arbitration ruling.

The supplemental pay was established in July 2020 and existed until December 2021. More than $24 million was paid out to OCSEA members via the supplemental hazard pay, according to the arbitrator’s report.

But in his ruling, which union officials say was based on little more than a mere technicality, Szuter ruled the Declaration of Emergency issued by DeWine on March 9, 2020, “did declare an ‘emergency,’ but it did not declare ‘public safety emergency.’”

Mabe said the union “strongly disagrees” with Szuter’s ruling.

“Unfortunately, the arbitrator agreed with the state’s technical argument that there was never a declaration of a public safety emergency under Article 13.15 (B) of the collective bargaining agreement and that some or many employees were not furloughed for the duration, therefore he believed the stipend was not applicable,” Mabe said.

“The state has the ability to pay essential employees right now for their role in the pandemic under the American Rescue Plan. These employees should be rewarded, not punished by management and the administration,” said Mabe. “Even though management may think this is a win, it’s a loss for everyone. Essential employees are the backbone of the state of Ohio.”

A guard at the Allen Oakwood facility, who asked that his name be withheld over fears of retribution from his employer, said in an email to The Lima News that the emergency pay denied by the arbitrator “is a clear violation of our union contract as it is expressly written that state employees shall receive an $8 an hour stipend for every hour worked during the declared emergency.”

By J Swygart

[email protected]

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