Although there has been a great deal of disagreement regarding State Senate Bill 5 and its proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers, one thing local officials do agree on is the fact that there is a lot of speculation swirling around the issue.
“If this goes through, I don’t know what will happen,” stated Jim Astorino, president of the Northern Ohio Firefighters’ Union. During a recent phone interview, Astorino said he had been wading through the lengthy bill, trying to decipher exactly what it would mean to area firefighters.
“I, myself, don’t know exactly what that all means, but the concern is that collective bargaining has worked for over 20 some years,” he stated.
His concerns were echoed by Rocky River Schools’ Superintendent Michael Shoaf, who attended meetings in Columbus last week, where the measure was discussed.
“I’ve never not had collective bargaining. I’ve always lived under the rules we’ve always had,” he stated. Shoaf said the issue is of particular interest because the district will be heading into negotiations with teachers this spring. He said that during the last bargaining session in 2008, teachers agreed to a 3-percent employee contribution to health care, up from the previous contract. Employee health insurance costs were capped at a 12-percent increase over the prior year premium rates for fiscal 2008.
As originally proposed, Senate Bill 5 would have completely wiped out collective bargaining for public workers. As of last week, Senate leaders are considering altering the bill to allow workers the opportunity to negotiate wages, but would still ban strikes. Police and firefighters are legally barred from striking. According to Astorino, strikes among local union workers had decreased dramatically since collective bargaining had been instated.
Currently, union members have the right to enter into what’s called the fact finding process if an agreement cannot be reached with either a city council or a school board. Once a list of recommendations has been decided upon, employees and employers vote. If the recommendations are rejected, binding conciliation occurs, where a mediator can impose a compromise between the two sides.
“You’re trying to fix a system that is not broken. Collective bargaining does what it intends to do. It establishes rules for how you handle negotiations. This has worked for 20-plus years, and there may be different ways to make this flexible, but doing away with the whole system is not it,” stated Astorino.
Astorinio said polls show Ohioans oppose that bill by over 17 percent. Ohio Democratic Committee Chairman Chris Redfern, quoted in other media outlets, has said that if the bill is pushed through by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators, a ballot challenge will follow. The bill would have to be signed by the first week in April for the challenge to be placed on the November ballot.
Supporters of the bill maintain that it will slow the rise in personnel costs and give governments flexibility to deal with lean budgets.