Home > GOVERNMENT, Ohio > Ohio panel OKs measure to limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers

Ohio panel OKs measure to limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers

March 30, 2011


Democrats and union leaders blasted the latest Republican changes to Senate Bill 5 today, including those that would allow workers to decline to pay union dues, even if they are covered by a union contract, and allowing government employers to refuse to deduct union payments that are directed to political action committees.

“They’ve clearly made a horrible bill even worse,” said William Leibensperger, vice-president of the Ohio Education Association.

Under many negotiated contracts, workers who do not want to join a union, but are still covered by terms of the union contract, must still pay dues known as “fair share.” The bill would no longer allow a fair-share requirement in union contracts.

“That kind of amendment really shines the light on what this bill is all about, which is silencing the voice of people who collectively bargain on behalf of their members, and, in our case, on behalf of the children we work with,” Liebensperger said.

Republicans have argued that workers who do not want to join the local union should not have to pay dues to that union. At least one witness who testified on Senate Bill 5 objected to how those dues were utilized.

“It seems to me that people whose religious convictions keep them from being union members ought to be observed,” said House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina.

Rep. Matt Szollosi, D-Oregon, who also is a union attorney, said there is no cost savings associated with the “fair share” provision.

“All that is meant to do is strike politically at their adversaries, and great consternation will result within the workplace as a result of this,” he said, noting, as union leaders do, that those who opt out of paying dues would still be covered by the contract.

Liebensperger added: “Those who are not paying dues are getting something for free. Probably there would be a few people who will see the opportunity to save a couple hundred dollars — of course, they’d be freeloading at that point. I think the majority of members will stay members.”

The House Commerce and Labor Committee approved Senate Bill 5 this afternoon on a party-line vote, sending it to the full House for a vote that is likely to occur Wednesday.

The bill would weaken collective-bargaining power for about 360,000 public workers, including safety forces, teachers, corrections officers, nurses and some university employees. About 450 demonstrators showed up to show their opposition to the measure.

Supporters, including Gov. John Kasich, say the bill is necessary to slow the escalating personnel costs in the public sector and give governments the tools to deal with the significant budget cuts proposed in the new two-year budget.

“The schools, municipal governments and townships have not really had the ability to stand up to certain bargaining practices that have occurred as a result of the 1983 legislation,” Batchelder said.

The bill would eliminate binding arbitration for law enforcement and firefighters and prohibit any public worker from going on strike. Instead, the governing body could implement its own final offer — a provision that union officials say is unfair and renders collective bargaining almost meaningless.

Under a House change, if the governing body chooses the costlier of the two last offers, and it’s determined that the contract cannot be paid for without asking voters for additional tax revenue, then the voters can take it to the ballot and potentially reject the contract.

“It will allow … the people to have a say in what goes on with the parties,” Uecker said. “There is still a local government vote, but there are triggers there that allow a referendum if the people disagree (with the contract). Any side can gather the people and get the citizens required for a referendum.”

For state workers, the Controlling Board, a bipartisan legislative spending oversight panel, would vote on the final contracts. There would be no statewide referendum.

A change to the bill also allows the local governing body to sidestep a contract vote altogether. It now says that if the council, trustees or school board fails to choose a final contract, the employer’s last best offer is automatically implemented.

“They must have heard from their local elected officials that ‘we don’t want this responsibility, we don’t want this burden, we don’t want to make these difficult decisions, so you do it for us,’ ” Szollosi said.

Batchelder said he did not think it would be common for contracts to go to the ballot for a local referendum. Such an effort would require citizens to gather signatures from at least 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.

He thinks it will likely be easier to get a contract on the ballot in rural and suburban districts than in Ohio’s large, urban centers.

Other changes to the bill would:

* Allow the government employer to continue to deduct union dues from a worker’s paycheck, but no longer could it take out money the worker wants to give to the union’s political action committee.

* Ensure that workers who strike illegally are not subject to jail time. However, Democrats argue this option is still possible if a judge finds an employee violated a court injunction.

* Clarify that safety forces, nurses and others can bargain for equipment.

* Eliminate the bill’s current prohibition against employees speaking to public officials during negotiations. Some lawmakers raised First Amendment concerns about the issue.

* Specify that traffic-ticket quotas cannot be part of merit reviews for law enforcement.

* Ensure the bill does not negatively impact death benefits for family members of those killed in the line of duty.

* Impose new caps on the amount of unused vacation time that can be paid out.

Democrats did not offer any amendments to the bill, arguing they were closed out of the process and the bill is too flawed to be fixed. Prior to the hearing, Democrats delivered more than 65,000 letters from opponents of the bill to committee Chairman Joe Uecker, R-Loveland.

Democrats protested when Uecker had the boxes removed prior to the start of the hearing.

“In all of the hours, days and weeks we’ve had this, I put out a call last week for any amendments at all, and I did not receive one word or phone call from the Democratic caucus,” Uecker said. “I have no idea what will or will not satisfy them.”

Batchelder added: “I think they’re just trying to keep a clean issue for the ballot. Obviously it’s helpful when people offer amendments, but that’s entirely up to their caucus.”

The bill would require workers to pay at least 15 percent toward the cost of health insurance, prohibit employers from picking up any part of an employee’s share of pension costs, eliminate automatic pay increases for longevity and replace it with merit pay, and limit what could be bargained.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern today called the bill “a piece of manure.”

“It’s destined for a referendum,” he said. “The disrespect and contempt shown toward safety forces these past few months will long be remembered.”

Unions and Democrats have vowed to take the law to the ballot to ask voters to overturn it. Polls in Ohio and nationally have shown public support for collective bargaining, including a Quinnipiac University poll last week that said Ohioans oppose provisions in Senate Bill 5 by 48 percent to 41 percent. When asked about “collective-bargaining rights,” the opposition jumped to 54 percent to 35 percent.

If Gov. John Kasich signs the bill by April 6 — which seems likely — the referendum would appear on the November ballot, assuming union supporters can collect more than 230,000 valid signatures of registered voters.

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