The Herald Bulletin

February 19, 2014

UAW taking lawsuit to Indiana Supreme Court

Madison County sued over union contract

By Ken de la Bastide
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The local union that represents the majority of employees working for Madison County is hoping the Indiana Supreme Court will look at the case.

In December, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by Grant County Judge Warren Haas, serving as a special judge, who said the Madison County commissioners and Madison County Council exceeded their authority by entering into a collective bargaining agreement that was binding on all elected officials.

The ruling in the Madison County case could affect collective bargaining agreements signed with unions representing employees in all of Indiana's 92 counties.

“We have asked for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court,” Barry Macey, attorney for the United Auto Workers, said Monday.

Madison County Attorney Jim Wilson said the county is filing its response this week for the request to transfer the case to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Wilson said he was glad the request was made to resolve the issue and was doubtful the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case.

Macey said the union’s position is that the commissioners are the executive officers of the county and there are state statutes that give them authority to bind the county to an agreement covering all county employees.

“We felt we had a pretty good case,” Macey said. “In an organization like the county the policies should be consistent. The human resources department reports to the commissioners.”

Macey said if local elected officials are allowed to make decisions on work rules, there is a lot of room for contradictions.

Last week the UAW delivered a letter to all of the county's elected officials asking them to agree to allow the commissioners and council to negotiate a contract with the union covering all employees.

“The union wants to negotiate a single agreement,” Macey said.

Jeff Shrock of the UAW said elected officials were split on allowing the commissioners and council to negotiate an agreement.

County employees covered by the UAW have been working without a contract for more than a year.

Shrock said if there isn’t a single agreement, the union will have to negotiate separate contracts with each elected official.

UAW Local 1963 filed the lawsuit against Madison County, Assessor Larry Davis and former Recorder Angela Shelton. The suit was filed after Davis and Shelton, both elected in 2010, who prior to taking office notified employees they were being terminated.

The UAW filed grievances against Davis and Shelton charging that they violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The commissioners requested that Davis reinstate two of the employees, a request that he refused.

Haas determined, and the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, that the commissioners do not have general employment authority over all of the elected officials’ deputies and employees.

The Court of Appeals determined the commissioners only have hiring authority over positions spelled out in state statute.

The UAW asserted the commissioners and county council had the authority to enter into the collective bargaining agreement to regulate the personnel policies affecting the official’s deputies.

The Court of Appeals determined the officials have complete discretion to hire and discharge their employees, subject to limitations imposed by state law. The Court of Appeals agreed with Haas that the collective bargaining agreement obstructs the independence of the officials to staff their offices as they deem best.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.