Unions push back, manager pay raise scrapped

The Middletown, Ohio, story continues, like an old soap opera. In response to that city’s council action raising the city manager’s pay, the city’s unions have pushed back, killing that increase at least for now. 

Middletown’s City Council had inspired last year’s attack on public workers’ bargaining rights by officially asking the Ohio state legislature to “take action to limit public union contracts, so local governments can control their finances.”

After massive struggle by organized labor and regular Ohioans killed SB 5, the state’s attempt to destroy public worker bargaining rights, the Middletown City Council voted earlier this month to change the rules under which the city’s workers are compensated so that only the city manager could get a major pay increase. The council took this action after successfully urging the city’s unions to agree to a wage freeze through the lifetime of their contracts with the city.

As expected, changing the rules of compensation to give the city manager a big raise while strong-arming the workers who work for the city into freezing their wages did not sit well with working folks there. Just two days after the council’s action, the city’s public worker unions held a joint news conference Nov. 16, condemning the council action.

“How is it that the city manager can ask us to take zero pay increases, but then advocate one for herself?,” the joint statement asked. “Working in the public sector is all about providing community service, not lining your pockets with taxpayer dollars.”

The statement closed with the “request that (city manager) Judy Gilleland lead by example and follow the same practices that she’s asked us to follow.”

The following day, Gilleland announced that she would turn down the raise.

Like a microcosm of the past year’s struggles, however, the Middletown council action shows that the Republicans who are still in power have yet to learn the lessons from those struggles. Standing up together, united, the unions that represent the majority of Middletown’s workers, like in last year’s battles, let that council know that they will not put up with it, that they demand to be treated fairly. Like in the fight against SB 5, Middletown’s unions were successful when the city manager declined the raise the council had given to her.

However, the Middletown council said the raise was not rescinded, and the manager could take it in the future.  Similarly, in the state and national political arenas, the GOP continues to try to push its unpopular, pro-corporate agenda, even when faced with electoral defeats. Also, like the workers in Middletown, unions and their allies will have to stand up united if those attacks are to be defeated.

Photo: Middletown, Ohio, firefighters on the job. www.iaff336.org


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.