MOUNT VERNON — The Ohio Senate is currently in the process of considering approving Senate Bill 5, known as the “Collective Bargaining Bill.” This proposed bill has been the topic of much controversy as the opinions of opponents and proponents have been strongly voiced. The main thrust of the bill is to allow sweeping collective bargaining changes.
If approved, what would the bill mean for the general public? For state workers, amending the 30-year-old state law would eliminate collective bargaining options, including those for higher education employees, and calls for the development of a merit-based system.
For local workers, it would remove the requirement that deadlocked negotiations with safety forces go to binding arbitration, instead extending the prior union contract for one year. It would allow employers to hire permanent replacement workers during a strike.
Health insurance from collective bargaining would be removed. Management would pick a uniform insurance policy that would apply both to themselves and workers. Employees would be required to cover at least 20 percent of the cost. It would also:
•Prohibit public employers from picking up employee pension contributions.
•Remove from state law automatic pay increases for experience and education.
•Eliminate from state law leave policies and automatic 15 sick days for teachers.
Supporters of the bill claim it could help control spending and provide more flexibility for cash-strapped governments. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who supports the bill, said that changes in how public employees negotiate labor agreements is needed to align the pay and benefits that public sector employees receive with those paid in the private sector, adding that collective bargaining reform is just one piece of a larger bill aimed at improving Ohio’s economic climate.
This bill proves to be very unpopular with many labor unions.
“It would affect all who are unionized and have any bargaining rights,” said Candi Gallagher, president of the Fredericktown Local Schools teachers union. “It would take away the rights of teachers for which we have fought for a long time. And it would give them [employers] the opportunity to negotiate salary and benefits. If we lose those rights, it’s a little frightening on how secure jobs might be and our financial outlook.”
Gallagher said the Ohio Education Association encouraged its members to participate in protests at the state capitol building on Tuesday.
“We’re just holding our breath and waiting to see what happens,” said Gallagher.”
While many concerned citizens are claiming the bill would remove protections related to hiring and firing of public employees and that unions are the sole providers of such protections, Jason Mauk, communications director with the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, claims these fears are not substantiated. Mauk points to a memorandum concerning civil service from the Legislative Service Commission which states that “Public employee collective bargaining contracts more or less provide protections that substitute for civil service protections.”
Two sections in this memorandum specifically address civil service and classified service. It states that “Appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state, the several counties, and cities, shall be made according to merit and fitness, to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by competitive examinations. Laws shall be passed providing for the enforcement of this provision.”
In addressing classified service it states, “persons in the classified service are afforded certain protections including protections regarding unwarranted discipline, termination, layoff, transfer and other changes in the terms and conditions of employment.”
In speaking as an employer for Knox County unionized employees, “It would make our job easier as commissioners,” said Knox County Commissioner Allen Stockberger. “But I have no intentions of making life more difficult for those employees.”
Stockberger said there are five county agencies that are union based — Board of Developmental Disabilities, 9-1-1, Knox County Engineer’s Office, Knox County Jobs & Family Services and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
“We want to be a fair employer for those unionized employees as well as those not unionized,” said Stockberger. “It will be interesting to see how this plays out since unions typically are viewed as having a certain amount of power.”
“We’re opposed to how it’s written,” said Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Wayne Noggle, representative of the local Fraternal Order of Police union. “It eliminates protection of the workforce. They’re just moving too fast. They need to slow down and work with us some more and make sure they keep things fair for everybody.”
Jeff Jacobs, union representative for the Mount Vernon Police Department employees, shared his opposition to the proposed bill.
“As far as our collective bargaining options, it’s something that’s always been there. In all my years here, we’ve never had to go into arbitration, but it’s a good thing it’s there if needed,” Jacobs said. “Hopefully, it never reaches that. It’s just a good safety measure. To take that away, you just put people in a bad position. Many of us feel they just need to slow down. What’s the big hurry? There are a lot of things to discuss. It’s understandable that cuts need to be made, but there’s got to be other ways.”
No indication has been made as to when the Senate might vote on this bill.