Who is a Deputy?
Under Ohio’s collective bargaining law public employees are divided into two camps. On the one hand are the “right to strike” employees. Units consisting of such employees are faced with a difficult choice when their negotiations reach impasse. If the employer or the union rejects a fact finder’s recommendation the employer can unilaterally impose its last, best offer on the bargaining unit. If the employees are unwilling to work for such terms, their only option is to go on strike.
For safety forces and others who are prohibited from striking, disputes over the terms of a new contract are resolved through a procedure called “conciliation” which is just another name for binding arbitration.
One such group that is eligible for conciliation is deputy sheriffs. Customarily, when we think of a deputy sheriff we think of a uniformed officer who carries a gun and has arrest power. A recent court decision, however, has broadened the term.
The Benevolent Employees of the Hamilton County Sheriff is a union that represents various clerical and administrative employees working for the Hamilton County Sheriff. The union and the sheriff went to fact finding and the county voted to reject the fact finder’s recommendations. SERB issued an order directing the parties to conciliation.
The Sheriff objected, arguing that these employees were not eligible for conciliation and SERB withdrew its conciliation order. The union appealed SERB’s ruling to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
The trial court looked to R.C. 311.04 which grants sheriffs the power to appoint deputies. The statute states, in part:
The sheriff may appoint, in writing, one or more deputies. At the time of
the appointment, the sheriff shall file the writing upon which the
appointment is made with the clerk of the court of common pleas, and
The clerk shall enter it upon the journal of the court.
The union produced copies of forms the employees had signed upon being hired indicating that they had been “appointed Deputy Sheriff (s)… and been duly sworn.” Based upon this the trial court concluded that unit members were “deputy sheriffs” and eligible for conciliation even though they did not carry guns or have arrest power. That decision was later affirmed by the Franklin County Court of Appeals.
Undoubtedly there are other county sheriffs who routinely “deputize” all or most employees. Those who do will be affected by this decision. This could even spur the general assembly to amend the collective bargaining law to clarify who is actually a deputy for conciliation purposes.