A union decertification election will be held March 17 in the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building for the 17 city employees who are members of the United Steel Workers of America.

A union decertification election will be held March 17 in the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building for the 17 city employees who are members of the United Steel Workers of America.

The election will take place between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The outcome depends on a 50 percent plus one vote, regardless of how many union members cast ballots.

This will be the second decertification election held since the union was formed in 2006. The first in 2007 retained the union by a vote of 14 to 2.

Since then, the USWA has been unsuccessful in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the city on behalf of the 17 workers.

USWA representative Mark Shaw said even if the union is decertified, the city still must answer an unfair labor practices charge issued by the State Employee Relations Board on the grounds that Reynoldsburg changed the terms of its insurance coverage while union employees are still trying to negotiate for a contract.

A hearing on the charge is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 10 in SERB offices at 65 E. State St., Columbus.

"Just in case the membership does 'decert,' it does not get them (the city) out from underneath the violations of the law," Shaw said.

City auditor Richard Harris said that prior to Jan. 1, 2008, the city's health insurance was a traditional PPO, but beginning on Jan. 1, 2008, Reynoldsburg switched to a high-deductible plan also administered by United Health Care.

He said the new plan involves a deductible of $4,000. The city promised that for the first two years, employees would receive $4,000 in a health savings account.

"So at that point, it was a change in coverage, not a change from company A to company B," Harris said. "It stayed within company A but it's just a different kind of health insurance plan."

Shaw said there is at least one other unfair labor practices charge pending involving a pay issue. He said the union will pursue that charge, regardless of the outcome of the decertification election.

Russell Keith, in-house general counsel for the SERB, after the Feb. 10 hearing, the case will be given to an administrative law judge who will review the findings and make a recommendation to the board, possibly 30 days afterwards.

One of the unresolved issues between the USWA and the city was a "fair share" provision that has been explained as requiring the city to deduct money from the paychecks of all city employees and pay it to the union.

However, Shaw said, the "fair share" provision and subsequent dues deductions would apply only to the 17 union members and not to all city employees.

He said joining a union provides members a with a collective voice to negotiate better wages, benefits and conditions of employment.

"Given the laws that are out there and as long as they are applied fairly, what I say is a true statement," Shaw said. "It is clear that union employees make 28 percent more in wages and benefits than the typical nonunion employee The other advantage is that it restores your first amendment rights in the workplace."

Shaw said for the past three years, the city has refused to give the union members a pay raise and even though the union clearly never stood in the way, now the city has changed their level of health care benefits, which is a violation of the law.

City officials have said the union members have not received the pay increases given to other employees because negotiations with the USWA were continuing.

"The city is basically retaliating against those 17 employees because they chose to join a union," said USWA representative Billy Boyce.

Shaw said if the union members vote not to decertify, he hopes Mayor Brad McCloud will recognize they are not going away and will give them a final offer to consider.

If the city employees vote to retain the union on March 17, the USWA would continue to represent them for another year.

Mike Schultz, who works in the city's street department and is on the union negotiating committee, declined to comment on the issue.

McCloud said although the city recognizes the 17 employees as being in a union, the fact is the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement on a contract.

"The unfair labor practice was twofold: that we changed unfairly their insurance coverage and the city's contention is and has been yes, but it is better than it was," McCloud said. "Is it different? Yes. Better? We contend that it is.

"The other issue on the pay, we just have not come to an agreement and that's the issue. Does the fact that we can't agree constitute being unfair?" he said.

dowen@thisweeknews.com