ELYRIA — Employees at the Lorain County Adult Probation Department are working to form a union to represent them.
The move isn’t being opposed by the county’s six General Division judges, who oversee the Probation Department, Administrative Judge James Burge said Monday.
Burge said a unionized work force would improve communication of workplace issues between staff and the judges.
“They never complain, and I don’t think they feel they have a voice,” Burge said. “If they do have concerns, I’d like to see them represented.”
Paperwork filed last week with the State Employment Relations Board stated the union would represent about 33 employees, including probation officers, case managers, support staff and secretaries. Supervisors, Chief Probation Officer Beth Cwalina and her superior, Court Administrator Tim Lubbe, would be excluded from the union.
Under the plan, the employees would be represented by Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Local 33.
Joe Thayer, the union official working on the Probation Department’s proposed union, declined to comment on what motivated the workers to seek to form a union.
Burge said because the Probation Department largely is funded by grants, collective bargaining wouldn’t include wages, but would focus on workplace issues.
The judges have been locked in a dispute with county commissioners in recent months over where to house the Probation Department.
The judges have routinely complained about the poor conditions they see inside the old Lorain County Courthouse and say they want to see the Probation Department moved to the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center.
But some county officials have balked at the cost of that proposal, estimated at between $2.4 million and $2.8 million, although the judges have offered to pay for much of the work. The commissioners have suggested several alternatives.
Several union officials have sided with the judges in the dispute and complained about possible health hazards they believe exist in the old courthouse. County Administrator Jim Cordes and several other county officials have said the building isn’t as bad off as the judges have portrayed it.
Christine Dietsch, executive director of the State Employment Relations Board, said in an email that her organization must conduct an investigation to make certain that unionization is appropriate at the Probation Department.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said the judges could stop the unionization drive if they were so inclined because under state law, courts don’t have to accept unions.
Both the judges and the employees have 21 days from July 9 to raise objections to the proposal, Innes said.
Burge said the judges likely will either just accept the unionization request or allow the employees to vote on the issue.