Betras Challenges Humphries over S.B. 5

Chairman David Betras | Picture via The Business Journal

March 10, 2011 7:02 a.m.
By Dennis LaRue

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- A deep and abiding contempt for each other only begins to describe the relationship between the chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, David J. Betras, and the president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Thomas M. Humphries.

At a press event held inside 20 Federal Place Wednesday, Betras fired salvo after salvo at Humphries for the chamber's support of Senate Bill 5, a measure intended to severely curtail the ability of public-sector labor unions to bargain collectively in Ohio.

Prepared, Humphries responded immediately afterward in his office to reporters' questions on Betras' accusations of the chamber's callousness toward public-sector employees -- especially safety forces and teachers -- and trying to ingratiate himself with Gov. John Kasich in a bid to win state funding for the chamber.

In a region where 17% of the work force is represented by organized labor, why did Humphries feel the chamber needed to take such a stand, he was asked. Because of "what's costing us to do business in Ohio," he said. "I've never believed that a lack of unions would hurt the middle class."

Betras scheduled his event outside the entrance to First National Bank Tower -- chamber offices are on the 16th floor -- but rain forced him to relocate. Joined by sheriff's deputy Sgt. T.J. Assion, and the state president of Ohio OAPSE, JoAnn Johntony of Girard, Betras said, "The chamber has no business" supporting S.B. 5, that its involvement in the issue is "sticking knives in the collective backs" of policemen, firefighters and teachers.

The Democratic Party Chairman asked the chamber board of directors to withdraw its endorsement; if they don't, Betras threatened to call for a boycott of the businesses the directors own.

"The chamber has no business getting involved in politics again," Betras thundered, referring to Humphries support of Kasich's bid to unseat former Gov. Ted Strickland.

Betras also called for the commissioners of Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. to end their arrangements with the chamber that promote economic development should the board fail to revoke its endorsement.

Repeating the Ohio Democratic Party line that S.B. 5 does nothing to resolve the often-mentioned $8 billion gap between revenues and expenses in the pending 2012-13 biennial budget, Betras said, "Senate Bill 5 has nothing to do with the budget crisis."

The gap could be reduced, if not closed, Betras said, if wealthy Ohioans joined middle-class and poor residents of the Buckeye State in sharing the sacrifice needed. Gov. John Kasich is scheduled to submit his budget March 15.

Public-sector employees such as Mahoning County sheriff's deputies and classified staff in public school systems have agreed to wage freezes and givebacks and have made concession after concession, Assion and Johntony said, to help county and municipal governments and school districts cope with reduced revenues.

Assion is president of Lodge 141 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Mahoning County sheriff's deputies. Johntony is state president of Ohio OAPSE, which represents teachers' aides, custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers in public school systems.

The chamber pays Humphries somewhere between $160,000 and $170,000 a year, Betras asserted, plus the fees he receives for serving on corporate boards and revenues from his interest in VoiceData Systems.

(Later in the afternoon, Betras e-mailed the press Humphries' compensation from the chamber in 2009, $161,209, a figure substantiated by The Business Journal by examining Internal Revenue Service Form 990, Return of Organizations Exempt from Income Tax.)

Sheriff's deputies are paid less than $12 an hour, the party chairman stated. "With a wife and two kids, deputies are at the poverty level," he continued. "What shared sacrifice? These people can't sacrifice any more while Tom Humphries lines his pockets."

Betras also stated that the chamber pays all of Humphries health-care insurance premiums.

Assion and Johntony said they found Humphries and the chamber's support of S.B. 5 "insulting." Through collective bargaining, Assion pointed out in his role as president of FOP Lodge 141, "We have made concessions at unprecedented levels. We have given back 27% in compensation. And they're [county government] asking for more."

Afterward, Assion said the starting wage for a new deputy is $11.92 an hour, a figure that has been frozen since 2007. Sergeants make $24.63 an hour, he said, lieutenants 15% more, or $28.32 an hour, and captains 15% more, or $32.57 an hour.

More than 300 belonged to Lodge 141 before the recession and the budget crisis has force the department to lay off deputies, some of whom went to work for other law enforcement agencies, Assion said, while others remain unemployed.

Johntony also expressed anger and scorn for Humphries' proposal to consolidate the administration of school districts.

All three see Humphries' initiatives as nothing other than "union busting," they said.

In his office, Humphries met with reporters individually and in small groups.

Only 2% to 3% of the chamber budget of $2.7 million is derived from services the economic development entity provides county and municipal governments and from its contract to administer the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., Humphries said. It is nearing the conclusion of its federal contracts, which provide roughly $500,000, Humphries said, and in the case of the P-16 program, the chamber is merely the pass-through agency.

Betras provided a list of entities the chamber is paid public monies to provide services for. Among them:
* Lake to River Development LLC.
* Lake to River Holding Co.
* Leadership Mahoning Valley.
* Mahoning County commissioners. Commissioner John McNally said the chamber is paid $5,000 to $12,000 a year for its services, a figure supported by Humphries.
* City of Youngstown.
* Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Foundation.
* Trumbull County commissioners.
* Warren Economic Development Foundation.
* Warren Cultural and Civic Foundation.
* Warren Grows.

Humphries is president of the downtown Youngstown CIC and receives a small payment for serving in this role, he said, pointing out that it's the chamber, not him, that's paid to deliver services to the above listed entities.

He also denied Betras' contention that the chamber pays him a salary of between $160,000 and $170,000 a year and that he has no co-pay for his health insurance premiums. He is paid less than $160,000, he said, but declined to be more specific. As for contributing nothing to his health insurance, Humphries has a co-pay of 25%, the same as the other chamber staff, Tony Paglia, vice president for government affairs, confirmed after Humphries met with reporters.

The chamber has a staff of 30, Humphries said, a figure that has held steady.

The chamber president's response to Betras' threat to organize a boycott of chamber board members who voted to support S.B. 5, "Thank God, we live in a democracy!"

As for why Humphries asked his board of 23 to endorse S.B. 5, the president of the chamber said it's needed to make Ohio more competitive and more attractive for businesses to locate here and to retain those in the state.

As to how much passage of S.B. 5 would save the state government, Humphries said, "I've seen [various] numbers. I can't quote a number -- either because he didn't remember it, he allowed, or because it likely was out of date.

Ohio ranks seventh among the 50 states in the tax burden it imposes on its residents and businesses. And it is higher than seventh in the taxes businesses pay. The state allowing collective bargaining in the public sector -- "and what it's costing us to do business in Ohio" -- is his concern. His point was that passage of S.B. 5 would make governments more efficient because managers would have more flexibility in directing their work forces and this would translate into less expense.

As The Business Journal was the first to report yesterday, the endorsement of the chamber board for Substitute S.B. 5 was less than overwhelming. Despite a 24-hour extension to get more board members to vote, nine of the 23 still did not, five abstained, eight voted yes and one, Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building & Construction Trades Council, voted no.

Crane is the sole member from organized labor to sit on the chamber board.

Humphries denied another reporter's suggestion he tried to sneak the endorsement by the press. That reporter noted the chamber did not issue a press release about its endorsement. Humphries insisted there was no intent to deceive or pull a fast one. "I had no intent to hide anything from anybody," the chamber president stated.

Yesterday he provided all reporters with a copy of the letter dated March 4 that he sent Gov. John Kasich informing him of the endorsement. The board voted occurred March 3, he wrote.

Was he surprised at the reaction to news of the endorsement? "I'm sorta surprised," he answered. "I can appreciate the unions' point of view."

Copyright 2011 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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