HEADLINES : Ohio
Survival of Contentious Collective Bargaining Bill Will Be Decided by Ohio Voters
Tomorrow, Ohio voters will decide on Issue 2, a veto referendum on the state's Nov. 8 general election ballot. The measure would repeal Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), the Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Law, which limits collective bargaining rights for about 360,000 public employees in the state.
Senate Bill 5 Provisions
SB 5 is the first change in Ohio's collective bargaining rights in 28 years. The bill limits how much public employers spend on employee health insurance and benefits and requires that public employees pay the extra costs. Public employers are banned from paying any portion of employees' pension costs that are supposed to be the employee's obligation, commonly referred to as "pickups". Additionally, public workers are required to pay at least 15 percent of the cost of their health plans.
- Bargaining: SB 5 expands the list of topics that management can refuse to negotiate with public employees, including employee qualifications, work assignments and staffing levels. Public employees can still bargain for wages and hours.
- Strikes: Public employees are banned from striking. A deduction of "an amount equal to twice the employee's daily rate of pay" is also made for each day an employee is considered to be on strike.
- Performance pay and vacation/sick leave: The minimum amount a teacher can be paid will be undone and replaced by a performance provision. Sick leave is reduced from three weeks a year to two. Similarly, vacation leave is capped to five weeks a year.
- Union fees: Public employees do not have to pay union fees if they do not want to become a union member.
- Governing bodies and contract disputes: The governing body of a public entity has final approval on any contract disputes that initially become unresolved.
- Supervisors: The law expands the definition of "supervisor" for fire and police departments and prohibits ranking employees in those departments from being part of the same union as rank-and-file employees.
- Community schools: Employees of charter schools are not able to collectively bargain, except for conversion charter schools employees.
- Reduction in force: Employers are not allowed to consider seniority and length of service alone when reducing the size of their organization.
Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law on March 31, 2011. Soon afterwards, opponents of SB 5 collected signatures and turned them into the Ohio Secretary of State's office for the first step of the referendum process. The agency verified the signatures on April 15, 2011, and the second part of the referendum process began. The signatures against SB 5 had to be collected by June 30, 2011, 90 days after the governor signed the bill into law.
On June 29, 2011, referendum supporters submitted approximately 1.3 million signatures for verification. The referendum measure's language was then decided on August 3, 2011. When voters head to the polls on Nov. 8, they will vote "yes" to keep the law or "no" to repeal the law.
Support and Opposition
Supporters of Issue 2 say the law is necessary to enable state and local governments to better control their costs during this time of economic downtown and lower revenues.
Senate President Tom Niehaus, a supporter of SB 5, contends that Ohio's government is in trouble. Earlier this year, the state faced an $8 billion deficit and needed to reduce costs. He says voters need to understand that they would ultimately benefit from limited collective bargaining.
Kasich, one of the staunchest supporters of SB 5, said in regards to local communities, "We frankly want to give the managers in the local communities and our schools the ability to control their costs so they don't have to raise taxes and drive businesses and more jobs out." He continued, "What we're trying to do here is to balance it out, to make sure that management has some power and some tools to create to control their costs."
Opponents say the bill is simply an attack on unions and public sector workers. Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the governor is placing the blame for the state's financial situation on public employees.
"Gov. Kasich is telling us that if only we could cut their wages, cut their health care, cut their pensions, somehow we would make Ohio stronger because of it," Redfern said. "It's a race to the bottom."
Union leaders are optimistic about their fight against Issue 2. Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said supporters of Issue 2 are "feeling the momentum and energy...This is a referendum on basic worker rights."
By Nov. 6, "We Are Ohio," the main campaign against Issue 2 has raised more than $30 million for the effort. The "Building a Better Ohio" coalition, which is fighting to keep SB 5, has raised only $7 million.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last week, Ohio voters support the repeal of SB 5 by a 57 - 32 percent margin. The margin against the measure has almost doubled in the last month, from a 13-point margin to a 25-point margin.