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Has Time Run Out For Collective Bargaining?


Emotions run high regarding Ohio Senate Bill 5, by which Ohio Governor John Kasich and fellow Republicans propose to cut costs by restricting public employees’ right to collective bargaining. The proposed limits would affect about 350,000 public workers in Ohio, including teachers, police and firefighters.
Senate Bill 5 would ban strikes and severely limit the collective bargaining rights of union workers, allowing them to negotiate for wages, hours and certain work conditions, but not health care, sick time or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and base future wage increases on merit.
The legislation would also set up a new process to settle worker disputes, giving elected officials the final say in contract disagreements. Binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes, would be eliminated.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Shannon Jones, said the bill, which would change a 27-year-old Ohio law, is long overdue and would help state and local governments control costs. The bill was narrowly approved (17-16) by the Ohio Senate on March 2, but awaits the approval of the GOP-controlled House and Kasich. Six Republicans sided with Democrats against the measure. It is currently being debated in the Ohio House.
The Portage County TEA Party has invited Ohio State Senator Tim Grendell as the featured speaker at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, March 24  at 7 p.m. at the Maplewood Career Center, 7075 Ohio Rt. 88, just north of Ravenna. The question-and-answer meeting is open to all members of the Portage County TEA Party as well as all citizens of Portage County. Grendell — considered a conservative — was one of the six Republicans to vote against Senate Bill 5.
Democrats and union workers rally against the bill as a power grab by the rich, attacking the middle class by attempting to balance the budget on the backs of union workers. TEA Party members typically side with Republicans, saying it’s time for public sector benefits to match private sector employee benefits, especially at a time when the state is suffering from an $8 billion deficit.
Anti-SB5 demonstrations have sprung up throughout Ohio, notably at the State Capitol and throughout Portage County. On March 14, thousands of workers in hard hats and gear marched to the Capitol grounds behind a delegation of bagpipes and drums, chanting, “Kill the bill!” and carrying signs like, “Hitler broke the unions in 1933, Kasich wants to do it in 2011.”
At the local level, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles; State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent; and State Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, joined about 500 opponents of the bill in the Rally for Ohio’s Middle Class on March 7 at the Ravenna Elks Lodge. Outside, a crowd of about 250 listened to remarks broadcast from the meeting. The rally drew representatives of Youngstown and Lordstown labor unions, as well as teachers, police and firefighters.
Meanwhile, about 150 members of the Portage County Tea Party, which supports Senate Bill 5, countered the Rally for Ohio’s Middle Class with its own pro-Bill rally across from the anti-Bill event.
The Kent State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors held a rally against Senate Bill 5 on March 15 at The Kent Stage. The Rally for Worker’s Rights was part of a statewide day of rallies organized by the coalition of public workers known as Stand up for Ohio.
The bill does not eliminate unions at the university level but reduces negotiable topics to pay and benefits. It also would forbid union members from taking part in management decisions. Union leaders have protested the change, saying it essentially would ban professors from joining a union as many are required to help develop curriculum and participate in other management decisions. The proposed changes would give officials at public universities across the state the additional flexibility to fire, furlough and transfer employees, helping balance what likely are to be difficult budget cuts.
Opponents to the bill claim that SB 5 would only make a small dent in the state’s budget. Some assert that the solution is to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Others say it’s time for cuts to public employees, stating that the private sector can no longer support the public sector in the manner they’ve become accustomed to. The original collective bargaining law was passed nearly 30 years ago.
Since clearing the Ohio Senate by one vote in early March, the bill has moved to a committee in the House of Representatives. After six hearings, Senate Bill 5 will not be put to a vote this week in order to allow House Republicans and Democrats time to draft amendments that may be added to the bill.
Even if passed by Ohio lawmakers, this may not be the end of the story. This thorny issue may be placed before voters in coming months.