Judge denies city’s appeal of ruling in Youngstown fire battalion chief case

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Judge Sweeney also wrote that the city had the finances to upgrade the radios without eliminating the positions

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) — A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge upheld a ruling by the State Employee Relations Board that the City of Youngstown committed an unfair labor practice when they got rid of three battalion chiefs in the fire department.

Judge Maureen Sweeney issued her ruling Thursday after the city appealed the SERB ruling in June that the city engaged in an unfair labor practice by upgrading radios for the department and paid for them by eliminating three battalion chiefs.

Youngstown Professional Firefighters Local IAAF 312 asked SERB to rule that the city’s move was an unfair labor practice, which they did.

“Myself and the rest of Local 312 are extremely happy with the decision made by SERB. It’s a decision we knew was the right one from the beginning, and we are very glad to see that upheld because at the end of the day, it is another way to better protect the citizens of Youngstown,” said Local IAAF 312 President Charlie Smith.

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.

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.

Judge Sweeney also wrote that the city had the finances to upgrade the radios without eliminating the positions. She said when SERB held a hearing on the request by the union, the city failed to provide an accountant or financial expert to back up their claim.

City Law Director Jeff Limbian said he did not want to comment on the ruling because he had not gotten a chance to read it.

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