Issue 2 to stem workers rights
- Published: October 27, 2011
Earlier this year, Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5, which reduces the bargaining rights of Ohio’s 360,000 public employees. The bill’s unpopularity led public sector advocates over the summer to gather more than enough signatures to turn the measure into a referendum, which will be listed as Issue 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Voting yes for Issue 2 will ratify SB 5 and stem the bargaining power of workers including public school teachers, public works employees and public hospital staff around the state. Voting no will send SB 5 to the scrap heap.
Yellow Springs High School teacher Shawn Jackson, for one, has been adamantly opposed to both SB 5 and hence Issue 2 since the beginning, he said during an interview this week.
“SB 5 takes the voice of the teachers out of the equation and lets the state make the decisions about how to best serve the public,” Jackson said. “Parents, students and teachers should be the ones figuring out how best to teach the kids.”
The main tenets of SB 5, according to a synopsis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, include:
•Prohibits public employees from striking
• Favors performance-based pay over automatic salary and step increases
• Limits employer contributions toward health care benefits to 85 percent
• Requires employees to pay 8–10 percent of their retirement pensions
• Removes consideration of seniority and length of service, by itself, from decisions regarding a reduction in work force
• Expands the list of subjects that are inappropriate for collective bargaining and permits public employers to not bargain on any subject…even if it affects wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment
Eighty-three of the workers in Yellow Springs who would be affected by this measure serve the Yellow Springs school district. Most are teachers and some are staff and administrators. While currently, all district employees already pay for 15 percent of their healthcare benefits and 10 percent of their retirement benefits, the law prohibits both the YSEA and the OAPSE, the local teachers and staff unions, from negotiating those formulas.
School Superintendent Mario Basora opposes the bill.
“I have a problem with the spirit of the bill as part of a movement to destroy public education at the state level,” he said, referring in part to Ohio House Bill 136, another legislative proposal that would siphon local allocations from the state to families who prefer to send their children to private schools.
While the Village of Yellow Springs is too small to employ unionized workers or police and therefore wouldn’t engage in bargaining, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff, the bill does still require Village workers to pay 15 percent of their healthcare benefits (already the case), and prohibits the Village from picking up any of the employees pension, to which local police already contribute 15 percent and Village employees pay 10 percent.
Though the law won’t have a profound effect on the Village, Cundiff sees it as a challenge to the strong union tradition in Ohio and an “attack on home rule,” in which a charter community such as Yellow Springs could come under increasing state control.
Scholars from the Ohio Business Roundtable prepared a study last month that showed reasons to support Issue 2. While private sector workers make just 2.5 percent more in average wages than Ohio public employees, public workers earn 30 percent more in benefits and enjoy greater job security than their private sector counterparts. The goal of SB 5 is to allow state and local governments to “hold down the rate of growth of employee compensation,” the report states.
According to Connie Wehrkamp, a spokesperson for Building a Better Ohio, SB 5 is designed to serve especially cities that are losing population while labor costs continue to rise, thereby making it tougher for the few people left to cover the cost of public services there.
Current polls show that Issue 2 is not winning Ohio. According to the Columbus Dispatch last month, Qinnipiac University Polling results show that 51 percent of Ohioans oppose the measure, while 38 percent favor it. For Jackson and other local school staff, that’s just fine. They will continue to put up signs, distribute brochures, and give people the facts to allow them to decide what’s right, Jackson said. Those who already know and oppose can show it at a rally sponsored by the Western Ohio Education Association this Saturday, Oct. 22, from 10 a.m. to noon at IBEW Hall, 6550 Poe Avenue in Dayton. Jackson will be there proudly standing up for his rights as an educator and a public service employee.