Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Employees asked back, but duties disputed

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

PIERCE TOWNSHIP - Two of the four township employees who claim they were fired for trying to start a union were asked back to work by Pierce Township last week.

But Dene Riggenbach said the job he was offered last week wasn't the one he left two years ago. Instead of serving as both paramedic/firefighter and a maintenance worker, he was sent to mow a cemetery and told that if there was a shortage at the fire department, he'd respond to emergency calls, Riggenbach said.

"I told them that wasn't the job I had before, and I left," he said. "They only offered it to me because they thought I wouldn't show up."

Riggenbach, who was trained at township expense as a paramedic/firefighter, is now working as both in another township.

Township Administrator David Coyle said Riggenbach and another employee were asked to return in an effort to comply with an order from the State Employee Relations Board to return the employees to their status before Aug. 10, 2000. The other employee has since entered the Air Force.

"They were offered the same job they had prior to leaving, maintenance worker," Coyle said.

The township has maintained in the lawsuit that the workers were primarily maintenance employees and only volunteered as EMTs. Their jobs were eliminated so the township could save money by outsourcing the maintenance work through private contracts.

The township has since created a fire department made up of full- and part-time employees.

The township says the decision to outsource and a study showing its positive impact on the budget was completed before the group decided to form a union. But SERB disagreed and found for the workers, and Clermont County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ringland affirmed that decision in October and December.

The case was most recently heard July 7 by the 12th District Court of Appeals, where a decision is pending.

Faith Doty, another employee involved in the lawsuit, was not asked back. She said no one was given an explanation as to why she didn't receive a letter. Coyle said the township is still deciding in consultation with an attorney what to do in Doty's and the fourth employee's cases.

Township Trustee Curt Hartman says the trustees have made their decisions to be fiscally responsible. He says even with legal fees, the township has saved between $400,000 and $500,000 by outsourcing.

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